Introducing Peter and Di Barrie from Willowie in the mid north of South Australia. Their story is number 23 in my quest to feature 52 farming stories as the part of our celebration of the Australian Year of the Farmer.
Summary of your family and farming enterprise
Peter’s family have farmed here for five generations, and have learnt to work with the marginal rainfall and the vagaries of farming in the transitional zone between pastoral and farming properties.
Our two daughters have grown up on the farm, but after their secondary education in Adelaide, Annette studied nursing, and now works as an RN in neonatal nurseries, presently in the United Kingdom, and Susan works in GIS and IT with the South Australian Country Fire Service in Adelaide. Di, who grew up on a fruit block in the South Australian Riverland, is an RN, and has worked part time, off farm at the Orroroo Hospital.
Our farm covers approx 4,000 Ha. On this we run about 3000 sheep, merinos for wool production, and cross bred White Suffolk / Merinos for meat, along with 1600-1800 Ha of cropping cereal and legumes. The sheep are run on native pasture over part of the year, and used for stubble & weed control as part of our cropping program. After a long run of dry years when we reduced our stock numbers, we have now been able to restock to our full potential.
With a hot dry finish to our cropping season, our wheat is generally high protein, and to maximise our returns on this advantage, we have formed a company with neighbouring farmers to sell specific high protein varieties to the manufacturing baking trade. Peter is CEO / Chairman of Flinders Ranges Premium Grain Pty Ltd, which purchases wheat of specific grades for sale to companies in Australia and overseas.
Over the last 5 to 6 years, FRPG have exported increasing quantities of high protein wheat flour to an Indian manufacturing baker who supplies bread rolls and bakery products to Subway and other fast food companies in India and South East Asia. We have worked extensively with them to develop high quality products for an international market. Smaller markets in Australia are opening up as consumers look for better quality and taste in their bakery products and artisan style breads. Whilst value adding in this way has been a long process, Peter can see the value in persisting with promoting our high quality grain onto the export and domestic markets.
For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
Being involved in both the production, distribution and export of one of our production commodities has given us, as farmers, the opportunity to become more aware of the needs of the end user of our products. Just growing a product is not the total experience, but growing a crop to a specific quality, and developing relationships with markets which use that commodity, has been an extremely fulfilling experience for us as farmers. It has broadened our expertise in R & D, marketing, promotion and sales.
Farming has always been foremost in Peter’s life, having working successfully with his father who showed foresight in expansion and innovation early on, allowing Peter to continue on this successful farm business with a focus on developing knowledge of sustainable farming practices and improvements on how we manage our environment and our livelihood.
Community is always an important part of rural living, and areas such as ours, which endure the variable seasons of the transitional zones, are such an important part of our lives. Resilience and strength comes from the support of these wonderful rural communities, and we are proud to be part of it.
What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming? (e.g. Global debt? Food Security? Water Security? National Security? Carbon Tax? Other?)
All our challenges relate to variable seasons and the reactivity of markets to global trends which put Australian farmers at the mercy of the Au$ and price fluctuations. The difficulty in being able to accurately forecast margins and prices makes forward planning and marketing extremely difficult, and this is not aided by persistent government intervention, legislation and the almost regular addition of extra levies and / or taxes we endure for sake of political expediency.
Attracting permanent skilled farm labour is probably now one of the most difficult things facing all rural enterprises, especially those near to the mining areas. The increased wages offered to attract workers to the mines and drilling rigs has priced us out of the labour market, and farmers will find it is almost impossible to attract and keep good reliable labour while this continues.
Another future challenge will be the “right to farm”, especially in high value, fertile agricultural areas which are being overtaken by urban development or mining. The food security of our country is dependent on everyone working together to promote a healthy and sustainable production of quality fresh food, and for it to be valued by the Australian population above cheap imports.
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?
We love what we do, and we have learned to manage the variability of profitability in our farming enterprise, but we would like city people to recognise that many basic services are lacking in outer rural areas. Health and education continue to suffer from reduced value of the funding which is provided, both State and Federal, and we all live in fear that one day it will be closed or transferred to another town, while the quality of our infrastructure, roads and utilities is deteriorating while it seems more and more funding is being spent on elaborate projects in the capital cities.
We need to be able to get on with the job of doing what we do best, producing high quality and sustainable food and farm products, that Australian consumers and overseas markets will purchase, and that we are not burdened by overbearing government intervention and costs.
Peter and Di Barrie,
Willowie RSD, via Orroroo, SA 5431
Flinders Ranges Premium Grain Pty Ltd