TIME has flown since I had the chance to study my Nuffield topic “Beyond Sustainability in the Rangelands” way back in 2008.
And yet it has been another 10 years of such great changes for my wife Cathy and I.
Five years of well above-average rainfall at Bokhara Plains with three consecutive floods following the brutal millennium drought.
Followed by five more years of having our rolling 12-month rainfall stay consistently lower, never getting near the average and creating another dry spell to rival the previous.
Five years of building diversity and health into our business and landscape and continuing to develop our tourism enterprise in line with our vision to prove that “family farms” have a profitable and positive future.
Followed by five years of stepping out of and away from that sphere and into the arms of corporate agriculture.
Willingly I might add, as we were up for a new challenge (as empty nesters) with a company that shares a similar vision, and a chance to help develop from scratch a large-scale version of what we were achieving at home.
I feel that gives me a more balanced perspective on both business models, as did our 12 years hosting several thousand guests from all walks of life give me a far broader view on politics and life in general.
Much like the experience of a travelling “Nuffielder”.
There has been plenty of negative discussion about foreign investment in Australian agriculture in the media, the blogosphere and in heated pub conversations across the land in recent years.
However, my view is that most people miss the point and choose to focus on perceived or imaginary problems, rather than any of the real benefits. SLM has a solid environmental focus on improving the landscape health and diversity, has brought in a lot of new capital that has translated into huge infrastructure projects on properties where many have not had much TLC in decades.
But more importantly, our intensively managed corporate model needs people involved intimately within the business, within the landscape and within the community. Yes, it is large scale and we have amalgamated areas into bigger units, however we can’t (nor want to) run on auto pilot.
However, it is still my strong belief that with a firm focus on profitability, family farms can out compete the corporate model. With greater control on costs, and an ability ‘not to pay ourselves so much’ if needed - or do something else with built in flexibility, rather than being hindered by some of the extra burden of corporate responsibility.