Diversification opens multiple market gates

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A highly diversified enterprise at Lucindale, South Australia, has opened the gate to value-adding and marketing opportunities for the Seears family

Image of grower Lachie Seears

Lachie Seears: “Investment in plant breeding has delivered a 40 per cent increase in our wheat yields in the past five years.”

PHOTO: Rebecca Jennings

Lachie Seears, who runs Boonderoo Pastoral with his parents, Peter and Helen, and wife, Rebecca, is a third-generation grower in the lower south-east of South Australia. Over the past three years he has injected a global perspective into the business after travelling to other pulse-growing countries and markets as a GRDC-supported Nuffield Scholar.

This quest to better understand the pulse supply chain prompted Lachie to change his perspective about the processing sector and to invest in on-farm strategies to keep the business moving forward and closer to end users.

Snapshot

Growers: Peter, Helen, Lachie and Rebecca Seears
Location: Lucindale, South Australia
Farm size: 3450 hectares
Rainfall: 650 millimetres (400mm growing-season rainfall)
Soil types: predominantly fertile black soils, some less productive grey soils
Soil pH: 7.2 to 7.8
Crops: 1540ha, including 675ha Aquadulce broad beans, 440ha Manning and SQP Revenue wheat, 185ha barley, 70ha oats, 130ha canola, 40ha vegetable seeds
Livestock: 5000 first-cross (Merino/Border Leister) ewes, 500-head self-replacing Angus cow herd

The Seears have grown broad beans for 20 years, with the crop thriving in the fertile black soils and high rainfall. “We focus on producing what suits our climate and land,” Lachie says. “We have access to the domestic feed market, so it makes sense to grow high-yielding feed grains. We have the right conditions and soils to grow broad beans, so we focus on growing them well and maintaining their quality during the growing season, harvest and storage.”

While he was confident the recipe on-farm was right, Lachie says one of the main messages he came home with after his travels was the value of two-way communication along the supply chain.

He admits he used to think pulse processors were the ones making the money at the expense of growers, but visiting processing plants in Australia and Canada revealed the high level of investment and risk carried by processors to turn a commodity into a consumable product.

Lachie already had good relationships with domestic processors such as Australian Milling Group at Horsham, Victoria, but he now picks up the phone more frequently to touch base and share product and market information.

Likewise, developing strong relationships with meat processors – Teys at Naracoorte and JBS at Bordertown – has enabled the Seears to bypass agents and deal directly with their customers.

“Building relationships with the supply chain can be as simple as talking to our pulse marketer on a regular basis, talking to our livestock processors, or inviting them to visit our farm to see what we do,” Lachie says. “This allows us to do our own marketing, to add value to our business.”

As a former chair of the MacKillop Farm Management Group, Lachie also keeps a finger on the pulse of another important link in the supply chain – research and development. “We attribute local research to an increase in our business’s performance and profitability,” he says. “Investment in plant breeding has delivered a 40 per cent increase in our wheat yields in the past five years.”

Understanding the customer

Lachie says meeting consumers of Australian pulses in Egypt and Turkey reinforced the importance of managing his pulse crop to prevent damage during harvesting or storage. “Pulses are so visual, they are bought by the eye, so we can’t compromise quality on-farm,” he says.

His travels emphasised that a barrier to the growing demand for Australian pulses is location.

“Australia is renowned for excellent quality pulses, but it takes 28 days for a boatload of Australian pulses to get to the Middle East, compared to four days from Europe. That puts the pressure on Australian growers to not drop the ball on-farm.”

He sees value adding as the big opportunity for Australia’s pulse industry and as an example points to processors in Canada, which produce pulse flour and redirect lower-grade pulses into pet food. “Australian pulse growers produce a commodity; if we want product prices, we need to invest the money to build processing facilities to process the commodity grown and market it as a product.”

Storage as a selling point

On-farm storage at Boonderoo is not just about reducing transport costs and avoiding bulk handling bottlenecks at harvest – it has become an important marketing tool. Boonderoo is located on the doorstep to south-east dairies, so the ability to store feed wheat and offer year-round supply has helped secure long-term stockfeed customers.

Aeration and drying technologies to maintain product integrity, combined with 6200-tonne on-farm storage capacity, have positioned the Seears to offer quality and quantity to the container export market.

Lachie says investing in on-farm storage has also paid off through risk management, capturing out-of-harvest premiums and spreading cash flow through the year.    

Diversification

The Seears run a diversified enterprise to spread risk, but maintain a systems approach to integrate livestock and cropping phases. Boonderoo is home to 5000 first-cross Merino/Border Leister ewes and a 500-cow self-replacing Angus herd. The cropping enterprise blends broadacre and irrigated paddocks, cereals, pulses, dual-purpose canola, hay and vegetable seed production.

The Seears are developing their irrigation infrastructure, with 150 hectares under four centre pivots and plans to install another pivot next year. As well as supporting high-value crops such as vegetable seeds, Lachie says the irrigation could lift wheat yields from 7 to 10t/ha, offering a risk management strategy in below-average seasons.

The pivots also support the livestock side of the business. Lambs are finished on broad bean stubble, but irrigated dual-purpose canola and wheat are used to lift the condition of breeding stock during autumn. This year, Lachie could run 20 per cent of the flock on irrigated cereals and canola after the seasonal break to give new pastures the chance to grow before they are grazed.

In a typical rotation in the irrigated paddocks, carrots are harvested in March; oats are sown in April and baled in October; canola is sown in December for grazing; livestock is put in from January to April; canola is harvested in December; and wheat is sown to set up for grazing in the autumn and early winter. By monitoring canola to avoid overgrazing and removing stock in time for canola to regrow, the Seears achieve 3500 to 4000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare and aim to harvest 3 to 4t/ha of grain.

Management structures

The Nuffield Farming Scholarship program carries a significant time commitment; Lachie spent 16 weeks in total overseas visiting Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Canada, the US, Mexico and Brazil. While this can be a barrier for many growers, Lachie says it gave him the skills and confidence to step away from some parts of the day-to-day aspects of farming.

“I thought that while I was away the farm wouldn’t function but the opposite happened and with a great team supporting me the farm performed exceptionally well,” he says. “As a result, we developed management structures such as training staff and establishing processes which allow me to work on our business, not just in it.”

Lachie is excited about what the future holds for the agriculture industry and is backing this up with a plan to expand the business and increase profitability.

“We can do this by expanding landholdings and by increasing productivity with the land we already have,” he says. “We are also looking to expand our irrigation infrastructure as part of our risk assessment to provide added security in our production system.”

More information:

Lachie Seears,
lachie@boonderoopastoral.com.au

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GRDC Project Code NUF00010

Region Overseas, South