Today, we welcome John Parnell as our 22nd farmer in our 52 Farmers over 52 weeks, blog. Now I have a disclaimer here; John is my Dad and I’m really proud of what he’s achieving!
Summary of your family and farming enterprise: Our family, which consists of June and me, run our 22,000 acres of grasslands and hill country at Carrieton, SA. Our enterprise is merino sheep, and at the moment have about 4,500 sheep on the property. We are recovering from a thirteen year drought, during which we off loaded most of our sheep. So our build up at this time is by breeding. We have mountains of good feed, plenty of water, just not the sheep numbers. However that will change as time goes on. We use the ‘holistic grazing regime’ as taught by Allen Savory which involves shifting big mobs of sheep from paddock to paddock reasonably quickly. In our case our sheep usually graze one paddock for around five days, and then are shifted. Our recovery time is twelve months, so the paddock is grazed once a year.
For you, what is the best life style factor that you enjoy as a farmer? June and I, despite our advancing age, just love Glenroy. We wake up in the morning and have coffee and breakfast looking out over a big gum creek. We see kangaroos and emus going up and down the creek quietly grazing as they go. The bird life is prolific with the only two problems being foxes and rabbits. The rabbits seem to be making a comeback since the virus and we are in to controlling them again. The foxes attack our lambs, chooks, and small native fauna and must be stamped out. Too many native fauna have been driven to extinction by foxes. When working the stock, we work together which is a privilege. This must be the second lifestyle factor we enjoy, as not everyone has the pleasure to work with their spouse.
What do you foresee as your biggest short and long term challenges in farming? The biggest short term challenge for us is labour. There are times we do need some additional labour to assist in heavy work or even just a second pair of hands to do difficult jobs. The two issues that effect this is money and availability. There are not too many young people left in our district now, most have gone to work in the city or the mines. The reason they have left the area is there is not the profit in grazing to support another family on many farms. The parents may be too young to give up work and so the off spring need to go away to find employment. In addition, there are not too many industries that can pay the same salary as the mines. Completely unachievable within the grazing community. The long term challenge involves a wide base of factors with little input by the grazier. First there are the mounting regulations and changes that are being implemented by government (refer water below). Our associations that represent us with government and industry are not as influential as they could be due to lack of funding. These funds come from the farming fraternity and for reasons that escape me; many farmers do not belong to the associations and pay their dues. The second challenge is markets, of which we have absolutely no say. For example the wool market responds to factors of which we have no control. The fashions for next year where wool may be a factor are decided elsewhere. With the large number of ‘in between’ people between the end garment and us means that there is little chance of the wool grower even knowing what his wool is being used for, and little chance the end user will ever know the wonderful story of wool growing in Australia. There are some working on this issue to build relationships that will achieve this objective. Having just come back from New Zealand I can see a major challenge developing in the long term (maybe not so long) about water ownership. In NZ there is one group of people who are trying to claim ownership of the underground water, with the government totally opposed. In Australia there are moves afoot for the government to charge for not only underground water, but also rain water that falls from the sky and is collected in dams. This would result in additional costs in running sheep (and all) properties and another government department we would have to fund.
What do you wish non-farmers/city people and the Australian Government understood about farming? What message would you like to put on a billboard in Collins Street? For all who are not involved in farming, it is difficult for them to understand the hard work, risk and variable returns that a farmer has to endure. Their comment is usually “well they don’t have to do it”. Many farmers have decided that they can no longer ‘do it’ and have left the industry. At the end of the day, however, the farmer is vital to the food production of the world. The problem there, will the world be able to afford our food considering the costs involved in production? So if there were to be a bill board in Collins Street, it would talk of a genuine desire amongst all people and all governments to work together in our chosen field of endeavour to support each other and Australia in general.