Why a well-travelled country girl chose to return to her roots and forge a career in agriculture.
Rebecca Kelly spent seven years working and travelling her way around the globe before making the conscious decision to return to one of Australia’s biggest wheat growing regions and establish a career in agriculture.
While her worldwide journey went full circle with her return to the family farm, it was the opportunities in agriculture and the chance to be involved in a sector crucial to feeding the world’s booming population that drove her decision.
Rebecca and her parents, Paul and Sue, operate a 3200-hectare cropping enterprise near Mingenew in the West Australian mid-west/midlands region – about 400 kilometres north of Perth and 100km south of the regional city of Geraldton.
While Mingenew is a dot on the nation’s map, home to just 500 people, the region is at the heart of Australian wheat growing and a powerhouse of production, boasting the largest inland grain receival site in the southern hemisphere.
It’s a region which depends on people like the Kellys – committed to sustainable agriculture, and striving for growth and productivity through efficiency and innovation.
The Kelly business is 100 per cent cropping. They grow the mainstay crops of wheat, lupins, canola and improved pastures as well as a niche crop, coriander, which they sell as seed on the world market.
Agriculture: a clear career choice
To say Rebecca took the scenic route to her current career on the farm would be an understatement.
Rebecca studied marketing then took a gap ‘year’ which turned into seven years working and travelling abroad.
From a summer camp in America teaching kayaking, canoeing and swimming to backpacking through Asia then time as a tour guide in South America, Rebecca then spent five years as a Top Deck tour guide in Europe.
Rebecca insists returning to the family farm wasn’t something she fell into, or fell back on.
“I’ve been to 70 countries in the world, I’ve got a degree, I’m not just someone who has fallen into this career.
It’s been quite a calculated move to come back into agriculture and despite some common misconceptions, it’s not a ‘backwards’ industry.
Rebecca went to Marcus Oldham College in 2016 to study a Bachelor of Agribusiness and has been back full time on the farm since 2018.
She says her days are determined by the seasons and her many and varied tasks and roles, both in the office and the paddock, defined by their cropping production cycle.
Managing climate for a sustainable future
The WA cropping program is almost entirely winter-based due to low summer rainfall and heat extremes.
Rebecca believes having the skills and knowledge to deal with those extremes and manage the cropping program through climate variability is crucial to the sustainability of both their business and their land.
“I’m learning that there is no average season. Every year people keep saying, ‘gosh that was a strange season’ but I’m learning that there is no normal anymore. Just odd climatic events.”
Take last year, for example. Rebecca said her area endured a massive windstorm event in May – one of those one-in-100 year events – followed by below-average rain in June and July, then substantial August rain which saved their crops.
Rebecca now takes a ‘what’s normal?’ view of weather and weather patterns, and says working with the weather today requires farmers having access to top-level knowledge and the tools to support that to help manage climate variability.
Research and innovation crucial to modern agriculture
She said cropping farmers in WA have depended a lot on research and innovation to enable them to push boundaries to grow more from less.
The technology that’s come about has helped us manage unpredictable weather and seasons – new technology, new seed varieties, improved chemicals, new information that we’ve got. We’ve got so many tools compared to 10, 20 and 50 years ago.
She says sustainability to her is the ability to continue farming in her environment for the long term.
“I think agriculture is just going to get more important than ever before,” Rebecca said.
“I know it’s a tag line that everyone uses but feeding and clothing the world is a very important job, and with the increase in the world’s population it is going to be even more of a challenge,” Rebecca said.
Fast facts about Australian wheat
Grain growing in Australia
Winter cropping is a crucial component in Australian food production.
When the drought broke last year, Australian farmers grew the second largest volume of cereal and oilseed crops on record.
2020 Australian winter grain and oilseed production hit 51.5 million tonnes – a 76 percent increase on the previous year.
Australian farmers produced 31.2 million tonnes of wheat last year – enough to feed.
Wheat from the West
Western Australian farmers are a huge part of the Australian cropping story
Wheat is the major grain crop produced in Western Australia generating $2-3 Billion for the State economy each year.
WA generates about 50 per cent of Australia’s total wheat production with more than 95% of this exported predominantly to Asia and the Middle East.
WA produces white grained wheat varieties that generate high flour milling yield and a bright white flour that is suitable for a range of products.