The Land Board members who granted young Narrogin farmer Barry Rick one of eight virgin land titles south of Newdegate in 1980 would have been impressed at the time by his energy, ideas and readiness to ‘give it a go.’
Then 23 years of age, Barry and his father Dexter were amongst 142 of 178 applicants interviewed for the eight blocks by a selection panel conscious of previous land development mistakes in WA that had led to overclearing and financial problems for developers.
Dexter’s small holding at Narrogin was no match for the prospect of applying for a bigger tract of cheaper land further east.
Those selectors could not have forseen that Barry, newly graduated from the University of WA, would bring his new wife Anne, a professional botanist from the city to help him develop their orginal 1600 ha allocation and add more land to it ... or that with their children Kate and Harry, they would eventually create a viable farming operation – complete with a two storey home to Barry’s own design and a unique garden blend of local mallee, shrubs and conventional plants designed by Anne.
The Rick family of ‘Kwongee’, Newdegate won WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for April, with a line of 305 Merino/White Suffolk cross lambs that averaged 21.38 kg to return $139.58 per head including skins, whilst registering a ‘sweet spot’ of 97.7 percent.
“Whereas we depend heavily on the lamb and wool returns from our White Suffolk/Merino cross lambs and our Merino ewe flock to complement our income from grain, we do not expect to win WAMMCO awards, - and this is a great surprise,” Barry said last week.
After taking a foundation flock of 300 Australian Merino Society ewes to Newdegate from the family farm at Narrogin to start the operation, initially using Poll Dorset rams, his breeding system is now based on buying in Merino ewes and mating them to White Suffolk rams. Today’s task of matching and sourcing the best replacement Merinos to each year’s budget is shared by local Elders representative Graeme Taylor, (Accomplished livestock agent – lucky lawn bowler), who also assists on occasions with bookings for lamb and mutton at WAMMCO.
Over recent years, White Suffolk rams have been purchased from the Walker family’s Jusak stud at Newdegate, with additional purchases from the Ditchburn family’s Golden Hill stud, Kukerin and the Ledwith family’s Kolindale stud at Dudinin.
“We mate around 2,800 Merino ewes each year and aim to sell around 2,500 prime lambs and our cast for age ewes each year to WAMMCO, whilst cutting around 18,000 – 20,000 kg of 21 micron wool.
Barry said the 2016 season had been a good one, enabling them to sell off 1500 prime lambs early in August at attractive prices. To supplement their clover pastures and stubbles, they prefer to buy in pellets from Barfeeds, Gnowangerup rather than using their own grain, because the diets are balanced to suit, and there is less wastage.
They are still recovering from a shocker season last year when they were hand feeding until October and received only 268 mm of rainfall for the year, - 148 mm in the growing season.
Water shortages from two consecutive poor seasons have forced significant new investment in water carting and infrastructure. Barry said 2019 was the first time in 38 years stock water had been a management issue.
“We are long term investors in the prime lamb industry, and are confident in WAMMCO’s ability to underwrite ongoing stability in the industry. Fifteen years ago our farming ‘mix’ was 65 percent livestock, 35 percent cropping. The ratio has been reversed for the past few years, but we may need to change the ratio again to achieve maximum viability.
Barry said ongoing investments by WAMMCO in advances such as new mutton processing and as promoting ‘grass fed’ certified product in north America would continue to be a critical plank of industry stability.
He believes the dangerous ‘offsets’ to farming are the global trend to veganism and the new threats to animal farming – despite a major, ongoing effort by the production industry to lift animal welfare standards.
“We take special care of our livestock, and invest a large amount of time and effort in their welfare, as do the vast majority of producers. It is very galling to see the noisy activist minority get so much political and Media oxygen. A message for them: ‘don’t leave the bitumen and grow your own food!!”
At the local level, Barry is concerned by the increasing frequency of frosts, poor seasons and increased risk of erosion.
“We used to get a frost every couple of years. Now they are occurring every year, raising the cost of a crop wipeout well above minimal losses with sheep.
Harry Rick has followed his father’s lead in leaving academia early for the farm. He graduated from Hale school in 2010 and opted to spend a year on the farm before accepting a position at Murdoch University. He was back in mid 2013, ready for a career on the farm and like his parents, keen to listen to good ideas. Sister Kate (23) is studying zoology and genetics at UWA and is keen to complete a Phd following a working year, having attained first class honors in 2018. She also retains a passionate interest in the family farm.
Barry and Anne’s partnership has benefitted the family business through their individual, professional assessment of policies and problems, Barry’s early university exposure to agriculture, and Annes’ training and career as a botanist.
Anne continues to conduct vegetation and flora surveys in the region and regards herself as fortunate to live in an area which has large areas of bushland still in relatively good shape.
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