Combining farming with land sustainability

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WORKING within sustainable agriculture seems like the perfect fit for 25-year-old Annabelle Garratt.

The field combines her two passions in life – environmental sustainability and farming, which is a combination that historically hasn’t always been a happy marriage.

Growing up on her family’s mixed enterprise farm at Walkaway with her parents Bruce and Andrea and siblings Shannon and Josh, Ms Garratt’s love for animals started early.

“My granddad once told me that a stock owner unfortunately sometimes has to be a stock loser, although I was never very good at accepting this and that things die, so as a kid I would always be bringing home half-dead lambs, birds, lizards, anything that hadn’t quite set into rigor mortis really,” Ms Garratt said.

“I’m a big fan of anything native – for as long as I can remember one of my biggest loves has been nature and growing up on a farm was perfect because nature was all around me and this really fostered my passion for the land and conserving it.

“That passion has only grown as I have gotten older and had more life experience.

“I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the importance of biodiversity and the environment.

“I think agriculture and the environment go hand-in-hand and as the industry is progressing, people are really beginning to understand that.”

During her childhood Ms Garratt’s empathy for animals was much more extreme and she laughed at some of the memories when her parents and grandparents tried to humour her but teach her at the same time.

“On rainy nights if we were out driving, I would manage to convince my granddad to pull over and help me get all the frogs off the road so that they wouldn’t get run over.

“I can only imagine what he was thinking – we’re there running around after frogs in the pitch black on a wet country road.”

Ms Garratt’s love for animals and the environment began from a young age as she was always surrounded by nature on her family’s mixed enterprise farm.

Ms Garratt studied environmental science and conservation biology at The University of WA and while most of her peers had dreams of working in the glamorous side where employment is scarce, such as with creatures in the ocean, Ms Garratt was one of the few people in her cohort to venture into agriculture.

Her first job after studying was for the Wagin-Woodanilling Landcare Zone, based in Wagin.

But Ms Garratt was always keen to move back to the family farm, which she did two years ago.

The property comprises sheep, cattle and crops, with Ms Garratt’s interests more heavily weighted to the livestock side, particularly cattle.

“We run Droughtmasters crossed with Charolais – we tried a few different bulls and found this cross produces a versatile calf that suits both the export and domestic markets,” she said.

“I’m also a big Brahman fan and managed to get some on the farm.

“They have massive, great personalities, are beautiful animals and they’re a bit like me in that they can be really clumsy, be a bit grumpy and look a bit dopey sometimes.”

Not long after moving home, an opportunity arose for Ms Garratt to work for the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council Natural Resource Management (NACC NRM) as the regional agriculture landcare facilitator, which is her current role, based at Geraldton.

She job shares with Lizzie King, who is based at Perenjori.

“My role is about increasing awareness and adoption of land management practices that improve and protect the condition of soil, biodiversity and vegetation,” she said.

“We aim to increase the capacity of agricultural systems in the northern ag region to adapt to changes in climate and market demands for information on province and sustainable production.”

As a farmer herself, Ms Garratt understands how important the bottom line is in a farm business and she tries to show other growers and landholders that being sustainable and looking after their land can, in the long-term, have great benefit to their enterprise.

“I understand that agriculture is a business, but it’s not just a business, it’s a lifestyle and a guardianship of the land” she said.

“Most people who farm have a connection to the land and country and it’s my job to facilitate that.”

Regenerative agriculture is a buzz term currently sweeping the industry, which is part of the work Ms Garratt does.

But she said the term has the industry divided.

“Lots of people don’t identify with regenerative agriculture – they might already be doing it without even knowing it, but they don’t like the label that some associate it with,” she said.

“I look at it as teaching people that they don’t have to go cold turkey on synthetics, but it’s about weighing up the options and figuring out what will work for individual landholders and their individual needs and properties.

“They might try something and it works for them and that’s great or it might not and that’s fine too, there will always be something else they can try.

“Sustainable agriculture is a long and sometimes hard game but improving your land will inevitably benefit your farm business.”

As well as being an advocate for animals and the natural environment through her work, Ms Garratt’s experience as a young female farmer sparked a passion for highlighting the inequality between men and women that still exists in agriculture.

“When I said I always wanted to go back to the farm one day to be a farmer, people always misunderstood and said ‘oh, you mean a farmer’s wife’,” she said.

“It has been frustrating at times – I have been at numerous clearing sales, auctions, stock yards, and these sorts of events where people won’t really acknowledge me, even if I’m with my dad.”

“As a child I don’t think people really thought girls could be farmers but my parents have always been very supportive of whatever my siblings and I wanted to do.”

Ms Garratt is on the Australian Women in Agriculture Inaugural Youth Committee which is one step closer for her making a difference for women in the industry.

“I want women like me to have the option to be involved in agriculture in the same way that men have always had,” she said.

In terms of what the future looks like, Ms Garratt is enjoying her role with NACC NRM, but she eventually sees herself farming full-time.

“When I go farming full-time, I want to make sure I’m ready and that it’s what I really want,” she said.

“I would like to be more hands-on with the farm eventually and have my own little line of cows.”

Ms Garratt is excited about the future of agriculture and what her generation will be able to offer the industry.

“I have already seen so many changes in the industry, with technology, on farm health and safety, animal welfare standards, inclusion and equality – just in my lifetime,” she said.

We have seen adversity like no other industry and yet we have persisted and continued to improve.

“There are still so many things I would like to see happen in the future – further improvements in health and safety, the inclusion of people from all backgrounds, but most of all sustainability and looking at agriculture being about our natural environment and systems, as much as it is about our economic benefit.

“I look forward to seeing how we can simultaneously sustain and regenerate the environment and agriculture into the future.”

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