Mining helps keep family on the land

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Striking a balance between agriculture and off-farm pursuits has kept the Unkovich family in the game.

Fifth generation farmer Julian Unkovich loves life on the land but in recent years has turned to the mining sector to provide an additional income stream.

Southern Cross Goldfields, Radar Iron and Vector Resources are among the companies Julian works with, mainly doing exploration work.

His wife Janis runs a successful photography business, taking family portraits, landscapes and weddings for her clients.

Farming 14km south of Southern Cross, the couple have experienced more dry years in the last decade than they can remember in their time farming.

"I still love farming but it is getting harder and harder and the margins are getting tighter," Julian said.

"It is a bit disenchanting that for all the hard work you put in you don't get much reward."

The Unkoviches sowed 2040 hectares of wheat and 160ha of oats this year, and have had about 170mm of annual rainfall.

Coming off their worst season ever in 2011, and with a late break to this season, Julian and Janis reduced their plantings.

"We could bump our program up to 7000 acres (2832ha) if the season looks good," he said.

"But the last few seasons have been a bit more marginal so we have been a lot more cautious."

Last season the Unkoviches only harvested about half of their crop, with wheat yields of about 0.5 tonnes per hectare.

Julian said a large proportion of it was downgraded because of sprouted grain caused by harvest rains.

He said one positive was that this season they did not have to put out as many inputs because there were plenty left in the soil.

"We cut back on inputs this year because last year was a bit of a failure, so the crop didn't use all the nutrients," he said.

Julian and Janis also run a Merino flock of about 800 breeding ewes. Julian said they had reduced the flock in recent years because of the dry seasons.

"We are a bit low on sheep numbers - we want to be over 1000 breeders," he said.

Despite having a run of dry seasons, the family holds out hope that things will turn around.

Julian said that until last year 2002 was their worst season but 2003 turned out to be their best season ever.

He said he hoped the poor seasons were part of a cycle that would change for the better.

The Unkoviches plan to start harvesting in early November.

Fast facts *

WHO: Julian and Janis Unkovich

WHAT: Mixed farming

WHERE: Southern Cross

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