This month BCG caught up with St Arnaud Farmer, Luke Batters. After starting a career as an agronomist, before becoming a barista in Bright for several years, Luke has returned to the family farm where the innovative spirit he has inherited from his father Barry has been the driving force behind his passion to test and trial new farming methods – in particular regenerative farming practices for which Luke is passionate.
Luke, firstly – can you give us a bit of background on yourself and your farm?
Well, the family farm is called Burrumbite it’s a mixed farming operation north of St Arnaud. It’s a family operation with Mum and Dad, with my younger brother Ben and his wife Janine and two kids, and my wife Hayley and our four kids. We also have a full-time employee Paul who has been with us for years and we have a few casuals over hay and harvest.
We put most of the land in crop with some left for sheep. 25% of that is down to hay. Of that 25%, we allocate about two thirds to cereal hay for export and domestic markets and the remainder for domestic vetch hay. Crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans, lentils, canola and vetch
Around 700 breeding ewes either crossbred or merinos and we get a few lambs on as an opportunity buy, usually after hay is cut for summer months. Some get finished off in the feedlot, making the most of grain cleanings and unsalable hay.
What has been happening on the farm recently?
Spreading urea, a few sheep catch up jobs, feedlot lambs have just been sold. And spraying grasses out of canola and legumes.
What are your plans for the farm in 2020 and for the future? Are there any challenges that you have flagged for the next few months?
We have been talking lately about inefficiencies and how we can improve our timeliness and preparation for each season’s activities.
In recent times we have found we have been carrying out maintenance on machinery when we would like to have started using it. So we are determined to start hay and harvest on time this year.
We’ve recognized that we need to simplify certain parts of the business and eliminate overlap between tasks, so energies can be appropriately attributed to the most current operation.
I know you have a passion for Regenerative Agriculture can you tell me how that started and what you’re currently working on?
Well, I had 7 years out of agriculture, I worked in hospitality and got to see life from a totally different perspective, focusing on human health, consumer perceptions of agriculture and also large-scale agriculture’s effect on the environment both positively and negatively.
Things didn’t totally make sense until I came back into the agricultural sector full-time and the puzzle started to align. The scientific community has made some massive discoveries in the last ten years which can be correlated with those who have been aligning themselves with Regen Ag principles over the last 30 years.
After some pretty strong back-and-forth conversations with Dad and Ben we have set aside a couple of areas to implement some diverse small scale Regen Ag cropping demonstration sites to see what can be achieved.
What are some of the successes in the Regen system so far?
Years ago, I first tried alternative fertilizers, I had a positive yield increase when using worm castings. More recently I built a small-scale crimper-roller which has provided a good outcome for weed control in the Regen plots we have set-up.
What are some of the challenges in the Regen system so far?
There’s no doubt it’s going to be hard to do without some sacrifices. Insect control has been highlighted as very difficult in a system where the biology does not support desirable plant growth. Weeds follow the same theory. I tend to think it’s more about constantly challenging the way you think about farming and trying to be open to opportunities that suit your system.
Go with the principles that work rather than make the principles fit your system.
Where do you go for advice?
Friends, neighbours, internet research, BCG other specialist organizations/forums/groups.
What is the best advice you’ve been given as a farmer or in life?
Work smarter not harder
Do it right do it once
Plan tomorrow’s work today