Necessity is the mother of invention on the Fels’ farm, where grain grower Mic has designed two innovative mobile apps.

Story By Kerry Faulkner

Grain grower Mic Fels just can’t help himself. When something isn’t quite meeting the needs of his farm, about 50 kilometres north-east of Esperance in southern Western Australia, he determinedly channels all his energy, intellect and inventiveness into creating a solution.
Mic’s father was among the first to farm the Esperance sandplain, taking up land in the late 1950s before it had officially been opened up for cultivation. Today, Mic and his wife Marnie crop their 6000-hectare Halcyon Downs with canola, wheat and barley while raising their three kids aged between four and six.
With its modern comfortable home, Halcyon Downs is a stark contrast to the Fels’ start-up farm at nearby Beaumont, a property so harsh neighbours warned them it was “heartbreak country” that would quickly send them broke. The then newlyweds’ first homestead was a former State Housing dwelling that Marnie’s parents bought for them for $1500 and transported to the block.
While the Fels are continuing a tradition of working the land at Halcyon Downs, Mic is also an innovator, constantly teasing out new ways to improve the farm’s profitability and more than prepared to be a little unconventional along the way. Recent examples include redesigning their disc seeder to allow them to seed at narrow-row spacings with full stubble retention, using two-year stacked rotations on paddocks rather than conventional single-crop sequences, and designing a hitch that allows one-pass seeding with a mouldboard plough, to improve production from deeper sandy soil.
The couple are both good problem-solvers courtesy of their engineering degrees, but very different personality types. Mic’s the risk-taker while Marnie, a transplant survivor after her kidneys failed – firstly at age 12, then again at age 25 – agrees she’s more “risk averse”. Using the family farm as the ‘guinea pig’ for a new plan, invention or system makes for some very interesting dinner-time debates. Though exasperated at times with the constant deviations, tests and trials, particularly lately at seeding time, Marnie says she trusts Mic’s decisions because the changes have seen the farm’s profitability escalate.
But his latest and possibly most successful development has taken Marnie well beyond her comfort zone and Mic right to the edge of his. It clinched the national Grains Research and Development Corporation’s Inventors Award in 2013, with its $15,000 development grant from a host of other innovative entrants. Mic says no-one was more surprised than he, when he won.
His win was for his second iPad/iPhone app, iPaddockYield, which he describes as a fairly simple app that uses a decade of historical rainfall and yield data to forecast current season yields.

This Story is from Issue #97

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2014