Legacy maintained at Tincurrin

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

Tincurrin's Don Thomson and daughter Gerri Hinkley celebrated wrapping up their 2015 seeding program last Saturday night by hosting a bonfire on their 4140ha farm Braeside.

But this year's event, joined by neighbours, was markedly different to their usual post-seeding celebrations, because of the absence of Mrs Hinkley's husband Wade, who tragically died in a car accident almost a year ago.

Demonstrating the family's resilience and the determination to continue farming the property that Mr Thomson's father started as a then 800-acre farm back in 1936, the father-and-daughter team have taken measures to ensure the successful operation can continue after the tragedy.

These measures included putting in place a board structure to ensure robust decisions are always made.

The board consists of Mr Thomson, Mrs Hinkley and Braeside's agronomist, farm planner and accountant.

In addition, they have appointed Tom Murphy as farm manager.

Mr Murphy, who has extensive cropping experience working on corporate farms in NSW, was also a family friend and keen to return to working with a family farming business.

One of Mr Murphy's first roles in taking up his new position was to sow Braeside's crop, which included 100ha of three different varieties of sub clover, which, depending on a reasonable season, will be harvested in January with the aim of selling as certifiable seed to a list of regular clients stretching from Esperance to Geraldton, and over to Southern Cross.

In some years, the pasture seed operation delivers Braeside's best margins, but in tougher years there could be very little to harvest.

In addition to the clover harvesting, the Braeside cropping program includes 1600ha of Mace, Harper and Kunjin wheat, 250ha of Mandellup and Gunyidi lupins, and 267ha of Williams and Wandering oats.

Mr Murphy said 118mm had fallen on the farm since the start of the year, of which 60mm was in the growing season.

Average annual rainfall is 345mm.

Seeding started about Anzac Day and finished on June 1. Despite dry conditions over the past month, most crops were looking good.

"Conditions were far from ideal, but we've had a good strike on most of the country. Some of the heavier country has been slow to germinate," Mr Murphy said.

Mrs Hinkley said the cropping program represented about 55 per cent of Braeside's land, the remainder dedicated to the sheep operation.

She said the family maintained their confidence in sheep, which formed part of the balanced system including the clover seed operation because sheep graze the clover paddocks right through until harvesting in January and February.

"A few years ago, when national sheep numbers were dropping, we increased our numbers against that trend," she said.

Mr Thomson estimated sheep numbers in the district had declined by about half.

"We believe in sheep and they also form part of an integrated system. If we weren't running sheep, we wouldn't be clover harvesting, as they are part of the complementary grazing situation," he said.

Mr Thomson said the key to running sheep successfully was to cut kilograms and run a high DSE. Braeside's DSE is about 9-10.

Although rainfall is forecast for late this week, the pastures on Braeside were getting quite desperate. Adding further pressure is the fact this season's lambs have just dropped, meaning there are about 14,500 sheep to feed.

"We are not hand feeding - due to volunteer oats and wheat - but we could be next week if it doesn't rain. Fortunately, we still have some grain and feed on hand," Mr Thomson said.

Braeside has bred its own rams since 1978. They look to produce a large sheep, and current average micron is 19.5 though Mr Thomson would prefer an average 21 micron to "fill the bales".

The family shear three times a year, including late January (about 5000 ewes), late July (3500 wethers and hoggets) and late September (4500-5000 lambs).

With the upcoming AWI wool poll, Mr Thomson said he planned to vote for the 1 per cent option. He voted for 2 per cent in the last round.

"I have not seen as much value as I would have expected from expenditure on marketing," Mr Thomson said.

The team is feeling optimistic generally about agricultural commodity prices.

Mrs Hinkley, who takes the lead of marketing, said she had locked in forward pricing for some oats, wheat, wool and wether lambs.

Offering added flexibility to grain marketing is Braeside's 3500-tonne on-farm storage capacity.

"This provides more options. We can harvest on the weekend when the bins are shut," Mrs Hinkley said.

"We can sample and segregate ourselves. We normally keep some unsecured grain at harvest time so if the price goes up early the next year, we have some to play with."

Braeside delivered the first load of wheat to Bunge's new receival facility at Bunbury in April last year.

The team at Braeside are big advocates of research and extension, with many trials being conducted on their farm in the past for groups including the Department of Agriculture, the Facey Group and Intergrain.

The late Mr Hinkley was the former Facey Group president and Mrs Hinkley, a Wickepin Shire councillor, was Shire representative of the farm research group.

"Dad's and my goal is to continue to build the business so that farming our property will be an option for my boys (Spencer and Xavier). How we get there may have changed in the meantime, but we're both committed to giving them the opportunity to learn to love farming as much as we do and as much as their dad did," Mrs Hinkley said.

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