Farmer in Focus: Will Koop

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BCG recently chased down Ni Ni Well farmer, Will Koop:

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

Our family has been farming at Ni Ni Well, 25km north of Nhill, since the 1880s. I’m the sixth generation on the farm.

I farm with my Dad Andrew, Mum Di and we have two full time farm hands, one, Zak, has been working with us for five years, the other, Harry, is full time over harvest. We run a mixed farm, 80 percent cropping 20 percent sheep with cropping split 50 percent cereals, 25 percent oilseeds, 25 percent pulses.

We generally have heavy soils but as we stretch from west Lake Hindmarsh to 20km south of Nhill, it varies from heavy to sandy.

I came back to the farm 14 months ago after completing a Bachelor of Agriculture majoring in ag economics at the University of Melbourne and studying soil science in Sweden.

I was glad to have spent the time away from the farm having also been to boarding school and taking a gap year jackarooing on a sheep station at Hay. It’s given me great perspective on how lucky I am to be living and working on our family farm: the lifestyle and freedom, it’s been fantastic.

My time in Sweden was also an opportunity to gain perspective seeing the way they farm on such an intense scale with government subsidies and then to come home to a sustainable business, I feel very fortunate.

What has been happening on the farm recently?

We have been preparing for harvest: servicing equipment, ensuring storage is ready to go as well as supporting infrastructure such as augers. As we employ casuals over harvest, we’ve also been training staff in equipment and safety.

What have been the challenges?

Like everyone this year, our challenge has been wet weather. The timeliness and frequency of fungicide has been a big thing.

Overall, I believe we executed spraying operations in pretty good time. Most crops look good, we’ve been lucky. We did lose 70 – 80 percent of our lentils like a lot of other growers.

Weed management has also been a challenge with wet paddocks – ryegrass in particular.

It’s also been difficult trying to make decisions with limit experience in a year like no other.

How do you manage your roles on the farm?

We are still trying to find our feet with me back on the farm but during harvest our roles are pretty clear and are set from the start. I run the trucks. Harry runs the paddock. Andrew is the gopher – he is the key part of the puzzle that keeps it all going. He will do that bit of extra research, get parts from town etc. It’s a main priority at harvest to keep the headers going and everyone works well with each other to ensure that happens.

What were your plans for your farm in 2022? Did you do anything differently?

We are carting more of our own grain to port this year with me home. It’s worked really well for timeliness and logistics and you don’t have trucks rocking up when you don’t have time to deal with them.

I think me being home is the main difference. It’s hard to say really as I’m still a bit wet behind the ears.

What are your long-term plans for the farm?

Same as what everyone else says I suppose. Ideally I’d like to continue to grow good produce, keep improving and expand.

I’d like to think that my kids could be involved in it. I’d like to live on the farm and be here for the rest of my life. The family farm is pretty special to me.

I also want to balance my time, ensuring I’m giving back to the community as I find my feet in Nhill.

Who do you rely on for advice?

Mentors including my uncle Jonno who has been in many industries and runs his own sheep farm in central Victoria. He’s a big picture person who gives good business advice. My boss when I was a jackaroo, Rob, is also a good person to talk to and my uni friends. We also work with adviser Kate Burke who helps us with succession. She really has helped in this area. She is empathetic while also encouraging us to challenge our thinking. We now have long term plans: five and ten-year plans, and good communication around expectations with mutual respect.

I’m also doing a lifetime ewe management course with Ali Frischke from BCG and that’s been great.

BCG’s Young Farmer Network which has just started has also been good. The stripe rust session with Kelly Angel was, to say the least, useful this year.

I hope to continue to grow my network as I spend more time on the farm and within the industry.

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