An innovative mindset and an ability to navigate business and environmental challenges were among the reasons Eugowra's Andrew and Tess Herbert have been selected as this year's Australian Farmers of the Year.
The couple are directors of Gundamain Pastoral Company, a 6000-head, family-run cattle feedlot, as well as a 1000-head breeding herd, 1000-head backgrounding herd, 6500 sheep (Merino and first-cross) and 5500ha of cropping and hay.
The sixth generation of their family, Andrew and Tess' kids, are also involved in the Herbert family's 150-year-old farming business.
It was the flood that took me to start thinking about that, how we are recovering.- Tess Herbert, Gundamain Pastoral Company, Eugowra.
Mrs Herbert said the feedlot was used to finish cattle for Woolworths and Teys for the past 12 years and played a big role in the family being an important local employer, with a team of 20 staff, mostly full-time and living locally.
However, all of their lives were changed abruptly last year when a flash flood of epic proportion swept down the Mandadgery Creek, colliding with the small town of Eugowra, and smashing through sections of the Herbert's farms.
They lost an estimated 50 kilometres of fencing on either side of town, about 200 sheep, canola that had been windrowed, plus some barley, pasture and infrastructure such as roads and sheep yards.
They also had two staff that lost everything and are still rebuilding.
"One has moved back and the other one still can't get back in his house. He spent eight hours on his roof with his kids and wife and was actually lifted out from there with a helicopter," she said.
However, in the wake of the devastation comes new beginnings and the farm rebuild had become an opportunity for change.
"So we've rebuilt it with a lot more laneways. We've been a lot more strategic. It gives you the opportunity to change where your fencelines are and have those stock laneways within your property as well," Mrs Herbert said.
This was just one of the ways in which the Herberts were thinking innovatively, using technology and considering their environment.
The process also highlighted the role of the feedlot. Mr Herbert's expertise in intensive feeding began with a former piggery that he operated around the time they were married.
From there, they built the cattle feedlot, developed relationships with people that wanted to custom feed and early on had contracts through Forbes abattoir.
More recently the innovation has also come via their daughter, Caitlin Herbert, and her husband Edward Thomas, the young couple being a driving force for measurement in the feedlot and across the farms, which Mr Thomas manages.
The sheep were an example, which they have begun tagging with electronic identification, but they also recognise they need to identify what to measure and how to use the data.
Measurement in the feedlot was more advanced, including average daily gains, feed conversion, temperament, dentition and Meat Standards Australia grading, and was tracked to the vendors.
Labour had also become an issue, so they were looking into labour saving devices, including remote sensing technology for water, fences and avoiding having to drive around to check everything.
Tess nominated the family operation after the floods.
"It was just a process of sitting down one day and thinking where are we at in recovery .... I looked at where we'd got to and thought we're going pretty well, and I thought what is it that got us to that point?
"It was the flood that took me to start thinking about that, how we are recovering."
This reflection helped galvanise the important role of the feedlot in their cashflow, including through the drought and their recovery from the floods.
"It's a way of managing your cash flow risk and your risk in changing markets with commodity prices changing," she said.
They have had to re-plant some of their hay production area after the floods, one of which came along Mandadgery Creek and the other along the Lachlan River.
"The creek flood came up and down really quickly, so our lucerne recovered. With the river flood the water just stayed around, so it's gone, we've had to preplant down there. We've replanted with a lot of lucerne but a lot of pasture mixes as well," Mrs Herbert said.
"Again, the flood prompted us, and our agronomist prompted us to do a lot more pasture renovation, given the weed burden and the gouging that happened along the creek flats and the river flats."
They have also conducted an energy audit with NSW Farmers to identify high energy usage, which included the feedlot mills.
"So we partnered with Origin Energy to build solar panels that power about half of our mills, so it's been really effective," Mrs Herbert said.
"We're exploring a lot more around natural capital and emissions ... if you think natural capital you don't think intensive feeding, but absolutely there's a place.
"We do have quite a large area of remnant veg on one of our places as well, so that will feed into that, and we're really interested in the idea of insetting and using it for supply chain, or if our customers are asking, if our financier is asking what are we doing in that space to reduce emissions."
Beyond the flood recovery, that was the next big project.
Their other children include their second daughter, Siobhan, an economist in Sydney, and Lachlan, their youngest, who works in rural media with ACM Agri in Orange.
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