Introducing Fleur and David Ferris. Fleur and her family farm on properties near Bunnaloo in Southern NSW. Fleur’s story is number 20 in our quest to feature 52 farming stories in 52 weeks.
My name is Fleur Ferris. I live on our 1000 acre irrigation farm in Bunnaloo, southern New South Wales, with my husband, David, and three girls, Zoe, Tia and Eve.
Summary of your family and farming enterprise
In 1919 my great-grandfather worked on a team in Victoria’s Mallee region, tendered by the government to do road construction and dam sinking. He applied for and attained a virgin block of land at Patchewollock, which was one square mile (240 hectares). He cleared the land, settled and began farming cereals, sheep and cattle. Over time my great-grandfather, grandfather and father added to their farm by buying and clearing more land; and this growing farm became my home. To this day, that original 240 hectare block of land is still owned by my father.
After completing HSC I moved away from Patchewollock to pursue further education, non-farming careers and travel. Fifteen years later David and I married and started a family. We were both paramedics at this time, and we found it difficult to fulfil our roster demands as well as manage childcare. We started to think about alternative, family-friendly careers and decided on farming. We bought a farm with the idea that, if all went well, I would resign at the end of my maternity leave.
David wasn’t from a farming background but was keen to have a go. So, with the help and support of family and terrific neighbours, our own farming venture began.
We run a mixed farming program of winter cereals, canola, rice and sheep. Our winter cereals are grown on both dry-land and irrigated blocks, when water is available.
We feel very fortunate that the drought broke not long after we bought our farm and the cultivation of rice in the area returned. We knew absolutely nothing about growing rice before we started so it has been a huge learning curve and a very positive experience so far. Rice has become our favourite crop to grow.
For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
I resigned from my paramedic position earlier this year, as my maternity leave came to an end. Farming has provided a great opportunity for me to stay at home to raise our three girls. As a result, our children are not forced into childcare. The childcare they do participate in is solely for social interaction and fun, and, therefore, everyone in the house is relaxed about it. Over the summer months, I maintain the rice which involves monitoring and altering water levels and checking for leaks in the banks. The girls are able to come with me. They love running along the banks, watching the beautiful water birds, finding tadpoles and frogs, and sometimes fish. Rice fields create an amazing habitat for wildlife. Farm life, in general, provides children with a unique type of freedom found nowhere else.
Farming also allows me the time to pursue my other passion: creative writing. I’m a very disciplined and prolific writer and have spent the last twelve months honing my skills, building a portfolio of work and networking. Over the years I have written five novels (two adult fiction, one adult non-fiction and two Young Adult fiction). I am currently redrafting and polishing two of these manuscripts for submission to agents/publishers. For me, mother, writer and farmer would be an ideal combination.
What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming?
The primary production industry is certainly facing some major challenges, both short and long term. For us, low commodity prices, rising costs and cheap imports are our biggest challenges. These three factors are killing Australia’s primary industry. We are a high cost country, competing with low cost and subsidised countries. You don’t have to look far to see that many farmers have lost the battle, sold up and moved on. Those remaining have been forced to become bigger, buying out their neighbours and producing greater volume in order to survive. I have seen communities shrink as a result. Patchewollock Primary School in the 1970’s had over eighty students. In the 1980’s it had decreased in numbers by about 50%. That school is now closed. Football teams have had to merge with neighbouring towns, to scrape up enough players for a team. Families have been forced off the land and as a result rural communities are dying.
Environmental challenges are also at the forefront of farmers’ minds and the farmers I know are educating themselves, adopting change and seeking diversity of crops in order to reduce risk of crop failure, and also to make farming practices sustainable.
What do you wish non-farmers / city people & the Australian Government understood about farming. What message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street?
I would like for non-farmers/ city people to understand how lucky we are to live in a country that is capable of producing top quality food in bulk quantities. World population is increasing at a rapid rate, and, in generations to come, food shortage is a real threat. Food prices would escalate at astronomical rates, should that situation occur. Australia is an amazing country which has the capacity to nourish its population and this should not be taken for granted. Not long ago, I was in a Mildura supermarket and saw imported oranges for sale (with no local alternative). Mildura is a citrus growing area – thirty kilometres away farmers were bulldozing their orange trees because they couldn’t sell their perfectly good produce. If people buy imported food over home grown food, Australian farmers will be put out of business.
My message to the government would be the same as to the people, but I would also ask them to do what they can to help farmers stay in business. Don’t impose unnecessary taxes and costs on things like machinery and chemicals. We are a major export country as far as grain is concerned, yet we are competing on an uneven playing field due to outrageous costs.
My billboard would read:
“Australian food by Australian farmers for Australian families = an Australian future.”