Farmer in Focus: Alex Noonan

Demi Taylor

From a qualified builder and machinery salesman to fulltime farmer and contractor, Alex, who farms with his brother Jayden, has enjoyed settling back into life in Birchip over the past six years. 

Can you give us a background on yourself and your farm?

I grew up in Birchip and prior to farming, I worked in carpentry for eight years. I completed my apprenticeship in Torquay, and also worked in Melbourne, the Sunshine Coast and then back to Birchip where I started my own business. I then went into Machinery Sales at O’Connors in Birchip, before going contracting and farming full-time.

Jayden and I have been farming for five years and we are fourth generational farmers. My father Peter is owner/operator of a duck farm. He did do a bit of broadacre but got contractors in to do the sowing and harvest. Prior to this he had a concrete and construction business where he got the idea to build a duck shed himself and progressively expanded over the years.

Over the past few years, Jayden and I have purchased some machinery and gradually taken over the broadacre cropping component of the farm. We began by leasing land from Dad and his sisters, before purchasing it two years ago. We now lease/own 2,000ha at Kayrie and Morton Plains, where we grow wheat, barley, canola and lentils. Given the intensive nature of the duck industry, we also help Dad out when required.

Is anyone else involved in the farm business? If so, how do you manage your roles on-farm?

My brother Jayden and I run the farm together. Managing our roles on-farm comes fairly naturally to us. Jayden does the spraying on our farm as well as his contracting business, and I do the sowing and spreading program and use my truck to transport grain and pick up fert from port when required. Most other jobs get split to who can best manage it at the time.

Who do you rely on for advice?

Any advice predominantly comes from our agronomist, Bruce Adrians from Nutrien Ag in Birchip. We are also contemplating bringing a business advisor on board.

Jayden and I also attend BCG events to keep up-to-date on current research. The Farm Expansion Day held in Birchip mid-year was by far my favourite BCG event. It incorporated information on leasing, buying and share farming, machinery investment decisions, managing growth, succession and employee recruitment/induction which were all relevant and topical.  The recent Young Farmer Network event on grain marketing and grain storage was also super relevant and hit all the right areas coming into harvest.

We have also been in contact with a farm business consultant and may look at getting onto that more after harvest.

What have been your major challenges this year?

Our major challenge this year was sowing… it was a nightmare. Given last year’s harvest conditions, a lot of our lentil paddocks were flooded out and high stubble loads led to blockages throughout the sowing period.

Like most people, getting a hold of fertiliser was also a major challenge this year. We managed to lock some in just in time.

How are your crops looking coming into harvest? Are there any major concerns?

Fortunately, the crops are looking pretty good! We had some patchy establishment at the beginning but everything seems to have come up well. The canola has done really well off good soil moisture in the profile. It was planted on lentils that were flooded out last year, so it has reaped the benefits of some extra nitrogen in the soil.

We have five seasonal workers for this harvest period (one of which is my sister Soph), and we’ll have three headers running; one out at Quamby, one at Woomelang and one here in Birchip. We actually started harvesting our canola today [1st Nov], so hopefully all goes well.

We also recently purchased a seed terminator, so this will be our first harvest using it. We’ve had issues in the past with resistant ryegrass, so we are hoping this will be an effective method of weed seed control. I’m keen to see how it performs.

What are your plans for grain storage this harvest?

This year we are aiming to store the majority of our grain. This enables us the flexibility to sell whenever we want and means we don’t have to wait for the bunkers to open and conditions to suit for fumigation; we can just load it straight into the truck and drive it down to the port in Melbourne on quieter days throughout the year.

We previously hadn’t been storing grain ourselves as we haven’t had the capacity to do so but we’ve recently purchased a bagging inloader and plan to bag the bulk of our grain.

In terms of transporting our grain, we are pretty self-sufficient as we cart it all using my truck.

Through BCG’s role as the North West Node of the Vic Hub, we are always looking at ways to prepare for drought. Are there any strategies you implement on-farm to minimise the impacts of a drier year?

One way we work towards minimising the impacts of drier years is through analysing our inputs closely and reducing them where possible.

We also prioritise weed management. Staying on top of summer spraying helps us to conserve the soil moisture that does exist. The investment in a seed terminator this year will also help with weed control.

The Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub is a state-wide collaboration of 10 organisations.  

Led by the University of Melbourne and with headquarters at UM’s Dookie Campus, the Vic Hub is a Partnership between five farming organisations (Birchip Cropping Group, Food & Fibre Gippsland, Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, Riverine Plains and Southern Farming Systems), four universities (UM, Deakin, Federation and La Trobe), and the State Government (through Agriculture Victoria).  

One of eight hubs established nationally under the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF), the Vic Hub works to enhance the drought preparedness and resilience of Victoria’s agricultural industries, the environment and regional communities, encompassing broader agricultural innovation. Engaging with a range of industry and community stakeholders, the Vic Hub links research with community needs for sustainable outcomes. 

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