Hard work paying off
Bonnie Rock farmers Kim and Beth Graham are powering through harvest, besides a stop-start few days of rain, with plans to finish well before Christmas.
With three sons under four — Drew, nine months, Brody, two, and Kaiden, four — and Mr Graham in the header cab all day, most days, it has been a busy few weeks.
They are in their seventh year of cropping together after starting nearly from scratch, and planting the first crop in 2013. It is not their own crop they are harvesting, it is their next door neighbour’s.
When it hadn’t rained by mid-May, the Grahams pulled the pin on their 2019 cropping program.
Sitting a year out has not been a major financial issue, they said, because Mr Graham works full time as the operations manager on a neighbour’s farm.
He is the sole header driver across the neighbour’s 7000ha cropping program, where they’re harvesting wheat and barley.
“Most farmers around the Bonnie Rock area will tell you yields are below average this year,” he said. “But there have been some odd and good surprises on the kinder country, or where there have been summer storm strips.”
“Some guys only sowed those summer strips on the back of storms around March 20.”
Mr Graham said the rainfall at their home farm was on par with 1969 — his grandfather’s worst drought.
“I think we are on a dry strip here ... I wouldn’t attribute that to everyone in the area,” he said.
“Often we aren’t complaining. In 2016, we got heavily frosted but still had yields of 2.1t/ha.”
After 8mm of summer rain, and 8mm in the eight months before, they deemed it too risky to put in a crop this year.
But coming off the back of their best financial year last year, and Mr Graham having a job off farm, gave them a bit of a confidence to “sit this year out”.
“In saying that, I did twitch a few times when we had 100mm after June 10,” Mr Graham laughed.
In a normal year, the couple crop about 710ha, with an additional 220ha on another block still to be set up with spray water and other logistics for cropping.
“We chase yield with barley, we go for a high-yielding feed variety ... we sow it early and try to beat the dry September,” he said. “
We have found our September rainfall below average in recent years, so we like to get the barley closer to grain fill by the end of August.”
The pair met by chance through WA’s grain industry more than 10 years ago.
Mrs Graham, a farmers’ daughter from Wyalkatchem, was working at the Nembudding bin during the 2008 harvest, when Mr Graham rolled through.
At that time, Mr Graham was carting grain for a neighbour.
He was working as a truck driver to help pay for the first 400ha of farmland — originally his uncle’s — he bought and leased out in 2001.
With a common love of agriculture and a focus on teamwork, the couple put their heads together to work out how they could one a run a farm of their own.
In 2011, they started buying land to crop, buying small parcels from neighbours that had previously bought Mr Graham’s grandfather’s farm at Bonnie Rock.
After borrowing against the 400ha home block, which was then paid off, they have since used each block to finance the next.
A Wheatbelt love story, the Grahams married and planted their first crop in 2013.
Now, they own about 930ha of land and are seen as trailblazers for other youngsters aspiring to own their own farm.
Self-described as “risk-averse” farmers, they have worked hard to farm wheat and barley, fetching 2.1 tonnes per hectare in 2016.
They live in the house on the 400ha property — the first piece of farmland Mr Graham bought — and farmland originally farmed by his grandfather and father.
“We always wanted to go farming but we were never fans of debt,” he said.
“We was always going to go down the cash avenue of doing it.
We realised unless we borrowed some money and got some ground we wanted to farm ourselves, it was never going to work,” he said.
The couple have three sons — nine-month-old Drew, two-year-old Brody, and four-year-old Kaiden.
“We always wanted to have our kids in the country... I just love being at the farm on our own, but also having such a good community around Mukinbudin,” Mr Graham said.
“We are definitely keen on bringing our kids up here... it has always been a dream.
“I just hope it rains next year.”
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