Today’s guest blog from James Kanaley highlights the diversity, excitement and huge range of opportunities available in agriculture. From family farming in southern NSW, to following the harvest trail from Texas to Canada, James has taken the road less travelled to reach his current home among the cotton crops of Moree.
Here is James’s story….
Agriculture is my life. My name is James Kanaley and I am a 5th generation farmer and agronomist from Illabo in southern NSW where my family has been farming for over 100 years.
Farming dominates my earliest childhood memories. Whether it was clunking around riding in the dusty old header cab harvesting wheat with dad or steering the old truck without reaching the pedals as the sheep followed behind gobbling up their rations of barley and lupins.
Me with my two younger brothers and father, “helping” him plant trees in creek lines in the early 90s. This was common on our farm and others, aiming to improve vegetation areas whilst decreasing salinity and erosion problems initiated by previous generations.
I spent my childhood on our family farm, which is a mixed farming operation. On half of our farming area we grow crops of wheat, canola, lupins and barley. The remaining 50 percent of the area is sown down to lucerne-clover pasture for our merino sheep flock to graze on and produce fine wool. The entire farm is worked in rotation, each paddock will go through a cropping and a pasture phase. Our farm is set on picturesque undulating red-brown earth with a winter/spring dominant rainfall pattern – although we take it when we can get it!
Like any farmer’s son I grew up learning from my dad and was lucky to have an intelligent, hard working father who has taught me a lot over the years and still teaches me plenty today! I am the eldest of three boys and a farm is the perfect place for three brothers to run amok on, most of the time at the expense of our parents’ tolerance and energy. Although three boys with a lot of energy can come in very handy when you the kelpie working dog is out of action and the sheep need to be mustered up.
I have always had a love for growing crops ever since I can remember. There’s nothing quite like growing a crop from seed, nurturing it through to harvest and turning the land you work into a productive food bowl. I can still remember how excited I got each harvest as a young fella as the headers fired up and burnt diesel day and night to bring the year’s crops in.
Planting a crop of grazing wheat on our family farm after some good autumn breaking rain, to be grazed by sheep and then taken through to harvest grain.
I also know how important our livestock are to our mixed farming system and will always have a soft spot for our merino sheep. I am a strong believer in diversification in farming systems and believe the strongest farming operations are able to optimise climatic and economic forecasts for agricultural commodities and manage their cropping and livestock enterprises to complement each other.
My first job outside the farm was at our local rural store. I sold agricultural chemicals, animal supplements, clothing, dog food and everything in between. We had one agronomist who would come back into the store covered in mud up to his knees telling us about what was going on out in the paddocks and enjoying having a laugh with the farmers. At the time I was only just learning what an agronomist was but this was the moment I realized the career I wanted to be in: Agronomy.
I attended the local high school in Junee and when I went to choose agriculture as one of my year 11 and 12 subjects I was told I was the only student choosing it. It was then I thought, why? We are in a strong agricultural area, how can I be the only student interested in agriculture? Agriculture is a way of life for our region and is the backbone of the local economy. Agriculture has always been one of my greatest passions. Why was an area that was rich in agriculture and dependent on the industry not attracting young people? By sharing my career journey I am hoping I can buck this trend and inspire other young people to aspire to agriculture related careers.
Inspecting a very good canola crop flowering during September, spring is a spectacular time of year when all the canola is flowering.
After gaining entry to Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga to study Agricultural Science I decided to take a gap year and work for a year…
Then, on New Year’s Day 2006 a fierce and terrifying bushfire ripped through over 25,000 ha of prime farmland and our property, leaving nothing but ash and dust behind it. It was the middle of the drought and we had just had the first decent spring rainfall in years, which only added fuel to the fire. I spent a good portion of my gap year clearing trees, re-fencing and fixing up our devastated farm. The drought had already pushed and tested many farmers but even after the bushfire everyone remained positive. They kicked the charred earth and barren landscape but knew the autumn rains would come again and trigger a rush of green to blanket the slopes and plains once again.
The bushfire and millennium drought showed Mother Nature at her worst, putting farmers under sever emotional, financial and physical pressure but it showed the resilience of our farmers and their determination. It made me proud to be part of an industry that could go through so much and work so hard without much reward, sometimes only to wake up the next day and do it all again until the drought breaking rains came.
During my study in Wagga Wagga I was lucky enough to travel to Vietnam with our 3rd year Agriculture class for a tour through farming regions in the Mekong Delta. The trip was amazing and a real eye opener getting off the beaten track to look at farming operations in third world regions of a developing country. It did make us feel very lucky to live and farm in Australia but at the same time it was interesting to see people who were less fortunate, and with less access to technology, productively use the land to feed their families and communities.
I spent a lot of my uni holidays working for a corporate cropping farm close to home. It was a great experience coming from a family farm environment to see the differences in how the corporate farms operate. Corporate farms are run with a lot less emotion than family farms and treated more like business investments. The company I worked for which was a large asset management group called Warakirri Pty Ltd.
The sheer size and scale of corporate farms appeal to young people who may never have the opportunity to own their own farm and realise you don’t have to own the farm to farm the farm. They are also be a fantastic experience for young graduates like me keen to take strong business skills and a diverse knowledge bank back to the family farm. Foreign investors employ local people and spend money in local communities and whilst it is important to recognize the role the corporates play in the industry I believe the future of agriculture in this country will always ride on the back of family farming businesses. .
After I graduated from university I travelled to the USA in 2011 to work on the wheat harvest trail. It was a fantastic experience working from the Texas plains to the Canadian border harvesting wheat, corn and soybeans. It was great to learn a lot about the American style of farming but what I think my trip highlighted most was how underrated Australian farmers actually are. My American experience made it clear to me just how adoptive, adaptive, innovative and resilient our farmers are.
Waking up to an unusual morning during corn harvest in Kansas, USA for me and the other Australian workers.
Harvesting wheat in the rolling hills and plains of Montana, USA.
After getting some of the travel bug out of my system I started working as a dryland agronomist in the Henty area in southern New South Wales, working with mixed farmers to advise them on their crop and pasture systems. This is where I started learning the ropes as an agronomist or ‘clod kickers’ or ‘plant doctors’ as we are affectionately called. I get a kick out of interacting with farmers and enjoy helping them get the best return on investment from their businesses.
I found I was extremely excited by the cotton industry and was keen to learn more about it. To do this I left Henty in 2014 to work as an agronomist in Moree, northern NSW. The Moree region is a very diverse farming area and I’ve had the chance to work with everything from cotton to faba beans. Irrigated cotton is grown as an opportunity crop whenever growers have access to water and is the lifeblood of the area. I love working as an agronomist and working hard to produce as much as possible from every millimeter of rainthat falls or every megalitre tof water that is siphoned down a field during irrigations.
Checking wheat during the winter, tools of the trade for an agronomist, Quad bike, moisture probe and iPad. Technology enables us to record and send data from the field saving extra office time
Working in the agricultural industry is not the only perk, the lifestyle and community that comes with it is something that I would never change, whether it’s trotting around on the rugby paddock or water skiing on irrigation dams. We are all in it for the same reason to work, breathe and live agriculture in rural Australia.
I want to be able to share my passion and knowledge of working in an industry that feeds and clothes an increasing world population.
I want to be able to share how exciting the constantly changing technology and science is in the industry.
I want to inspire other young people to aspire to careers in the agriculture sector.
I want to raise awareness of how important agriculture and farming is to our communities and create a wider appreciation of the role our farmers play.
Agriculture is my life and it is a diverse industry that I can’t imagine not being a part of.
You reap what you sow, a fantastic wheat crop at home approaching harvest and filling well with large plump grains of wheat.