Proserpine Young Farmers treasurer Molly O'Dea in a rice field in the Burdekin. The trip was part of the groups focus on precision agriculture.
Proserpine Young Farmers treasurer Molly O'Dea in a rice field in the Burdekin. The trip was part of the groups focus on precision agriculture.

The group connecting young farmers and changing growing

WHEN passionate sugarcane adoption officer Molly O'Dea moved to Proserpine a year ago, she was a little surprised to see what she thought was a lack of young farmers in the region.

She has now made it her mission to draw them out of the woodwork and create more connectivity between them through a new farming organisation she has created, called Proserpine Young Farmers.

During her agricultural science studies at Adelaide University, the 23-year-old said she had seen many young people inspired by agriculture and wanted to continue fostering that eagerness in Proserpine.

Raised on a broad crop and merino sheep farm in Yongala, South Australia, her goal was to show there was more to the industry than "just being a grower" - something moving to Proserpine had enabled her to explore.

"To me, agriculture is such an important part of society and I think that has become even more obvious in recent months," she said.

Molly O'Dea at Show Whitsunday posing in front of sugarcane.
Molly O'Dea at Show Whitsunday posing in front of sugarcane.

"It's a staple - everyone needs to eat - but there's more to it than immediately people think.

"I'm heavily involved in projects to inform school kids about sugarcane production and the number of roles and jobs there are in the industry.

"It's one of the most rewarding industries out there, you are directly involved in a basic human necessity.

"But, there are currently a lot of young people working in the industry and they're the future of sugarcane - I wanted to bring those people together and help them implement new and better practices and connect with each other."

Proserpine Young Farmers - a group connecting young growers under 40 - was the result and it has since grown from strength to strength in the Proserpine sugarcane industry.

"The average age of growers in the sugarcane industry is in the over 60-year-old range, but it's the young growers who are the future of the industry and the ones who are most likely to make changes," Ms O'Dea, who is now treasurer of Proserpine Young Farmers, said.

Proserpine Young Farmers treasurer Molly O'Dea in a rice field in the Burdekin. The trip was part of the groups focus on precision agriculture.
Proserpine Young Farmers treasurer Molly O'Dea in a rice field in the Burdekin. The trip was part of the groups focus on precision agriculture.

"A lot of these farmers might not have seen each other since school.

"They don't talk to each other a lot so this can expose them to new and exciting things and get them excited about different ways to work.

"But there's also a mental health aspect to the group, growers can sometimes spend a lot of their time on the farm and might not have many chances to socialise.

"The group keeps them up to date with not only new methods, but with each other."

 

LEARNING THROUGH OBSERVATION

Ms O'Dea said she had been successful in obtaining a grant through the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Enhanced Extension co-ordination project when she started Proserpine Young Farmers, which had already opened the doors to a number of learning opportunities.

The opportunities have been put on pause due to coronavirus restrictions, but she said they would continue to plan new activities and apply for more grants to learn more.

"We've done farm trips to learn about a range of different practices in the industry," Ms O'Dea said.

Members of Proserpine Young Farmers at a tour of Jeppeson Farm
Members of Proserpine Young Farmers at a tour of Jeppeson Farm

"We've travelled to the Burdekin to investigate automated irrigation systems, we've travelled to Bloomsbury to see analysis software.

"We want to see how others tackle issues, come up with solutions and improve their businesses, both profitability and sustainability."

"There's not a lot we can do right now, but I'm always looking for new ways to learn and new things that can help us."

 

BRINGING GROWING INTO THE FUTURE

Ms O'Dea said the long-term goal for Proserpine Young Farmers was to introduce more precision farming to the region's sugarcane industry.

Precision farming is making the practice of farming more accurate and controlled by using technology to address specific shortcomings.

Last week, it was announced that the group was the recipient of the Federal Government's Smart Farms Small Grants program to help farmers learn the positives of the farming techniques.

Alex Olson from Autoweed explaining to members of Proserpine Young Farmers green-on-green growing.
Alex Olson from Autoweed explaining to members of Proserpine Young Farmers green-on-green growing.

"I come from a broadacre cropping background where precision farming is becoming increasingly widespread," she said.

"For a number of reasons - for example the fact that sugarcane farms are usually a lot smaller - it hasn't taken off much in the industry.

"But it's the future of growing and will make things more precise and be better for the environment and yield potentially better crops."

Ms O'Dea said the grant would be used at a young grower's sugarcane farm to demonstrate some of the industry-specific advancements.

Sugarcane train at Proserpine Picture: Wilmar Australia
Sugarcane train at Proserpine Picture: Wilmar Australia

By splitting one paddock into three lots, the changes will be able to be monitored and observed.

"If you sow your crops, you can get a lot more information about the specific soil now, so instead of the same fertiliser over the whole paddock, you can add it where it's needed," she said.

Cane fields
Cane fields

"Something like this testing is better for the reef and the environment because you're not going to have as much wastage and run-off.

"There's a lot of acidic soil in Proserpine but with the soil-testing we can adjust this with lime - which fixes the PH - and makes it more neutral. You can tailor your farm to its specific needs.

"The younger farmers might spend their days on the farm with their dad and their grandad and never be exposed to these kinds of ideas.

"With Proserpine Young Farmers, we're able to connect and show there's other methods and new ways to approach farming."