Farmer in Focus – Tom Fawcett, Nullawil


This month BCG took advantage of some spare time at the wheel of the boomspray to chat to next-generation farmer and Nullawil power-forward Tom Fawcett.

Tom represents the 4th generation of Fawcetts to take stewardship of their 8500 hectare property on the Towaninnie Plains to the east of Nullawil. The farm is a majority cropping operation with livestock (sheep) running on stubbles and finishing in containment when the opportunity presents itself as profitable year-to-year.

The Fawcett family are industry leaders as broadacre farmers in Victoria’s Mallee region and Tom works alongside his grandfather John (Jack), parents Colin and Simone, Uncle Paul and Aunty Geraldine and a tribe of cousins and siblings. The property receives an average rainfall of around 280mm most of which falls in winter with occasional summer storms.

After completing his VCE at Wycheproof P-12, Tom headed to LaTrobe University at Bundoora to undertake a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. “It was something that my parents, particularly Mum pushed me to do,” explains Tom. “They wanted me to get off the farm and ensure I got some different experiences to bring back to compliment the operation if that remained my intention after a few years away. I think also at that time, the region was still in recovery from the millennial drought and there was some hesitation as to whether the business could afford another employee at that time.”

After completing his degree Tom took up work as an agronomist working for Lipps at Kerang and Birchip before returning to Towaninnie in 2018 when he was 23. “I always planned to come back but it might have been a little bit sooner than expected,” he admits, “but I was keen to get back and start getting hands-on.”


The Fawcetts are a four-person family operation and share the load during the busy sowing period and when harvesting the crop. “During sowing Dad and Paul take split shifts driving the seeder and Pa does all the rolling while I take control of the spraying program. I think mostly because my eyesight is still good enough to read the labels on the drums,” jokes Tom. “We sow to the calendar now, which is a change that has come about only in the last decade or so, we try to have all the vetch and canola in the ground by ANZAC day and the cereals and lentil in the ground by the end of May. It gets cold out here and frost can cause us some problems, particularly in the field peas so we push the sowing date back to June for those paddocks to ensure we flower outside the average frost risk window.” Tom says they are conventional with their seeding set-up running an Bourgault 80 foot parallelogram bar with single shoots and press wheels on 12inch spacings: “We’re lucky in the fact that the majority of our soils are fairly uniform and this simple seeding system suits the landscape,” explains Tom. “We try to control our paddock traffic as best we can, we run the boom on the same wheel tracks and set up as best we can to work within the 36 metre boom width, but when hay production is a dedicated part of the operation you can’t be too religious about it.”

“During the growing season I lead the operations for the in-season management actions while Dad and Paul look after the business side of things. We use liquid UAN as our main source of N fertiliser and we’ve got large storage tanks to store it. We will still use a granualised fertiliser if we need too but we find the liquid product makes the in-season top-dressing operation easier. When we need to cover the country quickly to get the inputs out Dad jumps in the second boom.”

Investment in liquid fertiliser storage tanks provides fast turnaround times for UAN application in the Fawcett’s farming operation

“During harvest my younger brother Joseph, who is an engineer in Geelong, comes back to help and my younger cousins are also hands-on.” The Fawcetts sow a variety of crop types including canola, wheat, barley, lentil and field peas. “I would say about 80 percent of our operation is focused on grain production but we also sow vetch as a hay crop and an integrated weed management strategy. It’s seasonally dependent though obviously, some years the hay production makes up a higher percentage of our saleable product.” Tom says. “We have invested in our own hay gear which ensures we can be as timely as possible with our baling but like most farmers up here we would prefer to strip grain than make hay.”

Current challenges

“Like most farmers, weed pressure is a key challenge for us,” says Tom. “Hay as a seed removal tactic, is one of the strategies we implement but we try to take a multi-faceted approach to controlling weeds through good rotations and good stewardship of chemicals. We’ve also invested in seed terminators on our two harvesters and a weed-IT system for the boom to try and minimise the use of herbicides we apply.”

Soil testing

The Fawcetts are currently implementing a comprehensive soil testing program – getting most of the paddocks sampled to get detailed understanding of their fertility and to plan and prioritise the input requirements across the farm. “For me, soil testing is such a simple and effective strategy to improve yields,” explains Tom. “Knowing what you’re starting with and making informed decisions based on a known figure is a building block for productivity. We work closely with our agronomist at Dodgshun Medlin who is fantastic and provides us with great recommendations and advice.”

Skills development

Additionally, Tom has recently completed a mentorship program through Agriculture Victoria who facilitated a connection with Sea Lake grower Mick McClelland. “It was a great thing to do,” says Tom. “Mick is an informed and innovative farmer and to have the opportunity to bounce ideas off him was invaluable. I’ve also completed a few of the free courses on offer through AgVic and I’ve been really impressed – I used to see them advertised and just not take the time to register and missed the opportunities but after taking the time recently to attend I would really recommend that all young farmers take the free opportunities available in professional development.”

Tom has also engaged in the BCG GAPP (Extending whole farm sustainability to young farmer discussion groups in the Wimmera and Mallee) program in 2020/21 which was funded by the National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants program and initiative of the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. “BCG provides great support to the young farmers in the region and the information they deliver is specific to our farming operations and applied in the local agro-environment” said Tom “our family values the organisation for the work they undertake to improve our productivity and profitability”

Future challenges

Looking forward, Tom foresees challenges for farmers in the changing global markets and the rising cost of farming, but is confident the industry can respond and move forward. “As long as we are continuing to educate ourselves professionally and to keep up to date with best practice management, we can stay ahead of the game. We’ll continue to invest in innovation and refining our production systems to take advantage of the technological advances available to us and focus on controlling on what we can control.”

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