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Investing for productivity, and lifestyle

Posted by Rabobank Australia on


Investing in on-farm efficiencies is helping Western Australia’s Walker family to work smarter, rather than harder – helping restore the delicate balance between work and play.

With over 6,000 hectares of mixed farming in the Newdegate district, Peter and Rochell, together with Peter’s parents Syd and Judy, run an extensive operation consisting of grain cropping and sheep.

Whilst their ties to the property are historic – having farmed “Wattledale Estate” for almost 100 years – the operation exemplifies modern inter-generational progression.

And with the next generation, Elise, 14, Ben, 10 and Sam, eight, growing up fast, the family is now looking to the future. 

The family’s latest on-farm innovation has been the introduction of electronic identification (EID) across their Suffolk and White Suffolk flock, improving accuracy and saving both time and labour in the yards.

Rochell said the decision to invest in EID had proven a ‘game changer’, benefitting the business on a number of fronts.

“From a labour perspective, it’s saved us not only on labour costs – but considering the current staff shortages, we’ve been able to bypass all sorts of headaches attracting staff.”

The Walkers’ White Suffolk and Suffolk stud and Merino flock all have EID ear tags containing a microchip that can be read electronically in just a fraction of a second.

Data captured includes the necessary details required from conducting a simple paddock stocktake, to selecting stock for improved current and future production, muscle scanning and pregnancy status.

The Walkers run a 3,500 self-replacing Merino flock, with a focus on producing premium wool.

 Within their stud, they mate 100 Suffolk ewes and 150 White Suffolk ewes annually to provide flock and stud rams for their clients.

“My father-in-law always ran Suffolks and we introduced White Suffolks to the farm in 2013, purely due to client demand,” Rochell said.

Describing the Suffolk and White Suffolk breeds as ‘an exceptionally good product’, she said they made good business sense.

“They grow quickly, and we’ve really been able to take advantage of the fact that their lambs are ready for delivery fast.”

An ongoing machinery maintenance program also ensures maximum efficiency when it comes to the cropping side of their operation, with the family’s rotation including wheat, barley and oats.

“We make the most of good technology, and our main focus is on consistently increasing our machinery size, so we can cover more ground, more efficiently and accurately.”

“All our investment dollars spent on farm – whether it’s in the cropping or sheep enterprise – is spent to better manage our labour component, or negate it.”

Having enjoyed a run of favourable seasons, Rochell said farming in the Newdegate region was the source of enormous pride.

“We love what we do, and how we do it, and it’s nice to be part of a system that is helping feed the world.”

Mixing work and play

With the family enjoying a healthy thirst for fun, innovation is ensuring the Walkers can dedicate more time to off-farm pursuits.

“We love the farm, but we also love our sport, love our weekends and love spending time as a family. With Elise being away at boarding school, that means a bit more travel to get that family time,” Rochell said.

The Newdegate community is another great love, and Rochell is a passionate contributor to her town.

“Newdegate is only small, but it’s a fantastic community where we are surrounded by like-minded people. We’re a community that supports each other, and shares information freely both formally through field days, and informally through neighbourly conversation – everyone has each other’s backs.”

This information-sharing culture culminates at the annual Newdegate Field Day, an event that attracts over 10,000 people to the town, which has a population of just 200.

Rochell is a keen contributor to the event – which this year celebrates 50 years –  having joined the committee in 2010 and currently sitting as the group’s treasurer for a second time.

“I’m really proud of our field days and enjoy giving back and supporting our community. Our event is an opportunity to recognise an industry, share knowledge and showcase local agriculture, and the community outcomes are also enormous,” she said.

“The mental health benefits of a social opportunity like this in rural Australia can’t be underestimated, plus there’s the fun stuff like the money we’re able to raise to contribute back into the community.”

“Newdegate is a proactive community when it comes to putting money back into the town, we identify and direct funding locally and can see exactly where it goes, which is so rewarding.”

Rochell also selflessly volunteers her time on the local school council, junior sporting committees and the P&C – downplaying her significant contribution to her community, smiling that “It’s what most people do in a small town.”

 “Plus,” she laughs, ”It saves you from being home and having to clean the house!”

A partnership for productivity  

Clients of Natalie Purdy in Rabobank’s Narrogin and Lake Grace branch, the Walkers are grateful to partner with a rural manager who genuinely understands their business.

“We consider Natalie a valuable part of our team, she’s a sounding board for our ideas and vital in ensuring we consider opportunities and challenges thoroughly. Nat is truly passionate about agriculture and it shows in her depth of knowledge and understanding of our business.”

As a bank dedicated to agriculture, Rochell said it was reassuring knowing that Rabobank had a full understanding of the unique nature of a farming business.

"They support us when times are good, and when times are tight, and understand why we do what we do."

Likewise, Natalie is thrilled to be supporting the Walkers on their journey.

"Like all my clients I really enjoy understanding how everyone operates,” she said. “The dynamics of the business partners and long-term strategies are really important to comprehend – it’s my priority to see everyone achieve their goals, and be aware of what part I can play."

“This insight allows me to challenge decisions and share knowledge to assist clients as much as possible, and while I’ve only been a part of the Walker business for the past two years, I have really enjoyed learning more about them, their family and their business – and hopefully I’ve been able to part some of my knowledge to assist them in growing and improving their business towards a sustainable future.”