The 2022 Australian Farmer of the Year is taking diversification to a whole new level. 

Story Amanda Burdon  Photo Matt Miegel

Sixth-generation wool producer Michael Taylor looks out across the rolling New England Tablelands his family have farmed since 1839. His voice competes with a chorus of cicadas. 

Unusually in this coveted superfine wool-growing region, trees outnumber Merinos here. Large stands of grand pines dominate the foreground, juvenile native species skirt contour banks and, on a distant ridge, a fuzzy patch of eucalypts and shrubs suggests wilder terrain still.

“Agroforestry can be as little as having a small plot of trees as a windbreak, a wide-spaced planting across a whole paddock for future harvest, or a conservation plot like that one on the ridge,” the lanky farmer says. “It was non-productive and contained some nice remnant tree species, so we fenced it off for biodiversity.”

Later, pointing to a large rough-barked eucalypt surrounded by juvenile saplings, Michael breaks into his trademark broad smile. “This is what we are most excited about – the natural regeneration,” he says. “Eucalyptus nova-anglica is something special; part of a nationally threatened community. You’ll also see a lot of dead and fallen trees on our place. They are part of the ecosystem, too – where the birds and gliders and bats roost, and reptiles live.”

Over the past 40 years, the Taylor family has planted some 250,000 trees on Taylors Run in erroneously named Terrible Vale, near Kentucky, NSW. In a landscape that was all but felled by dieback, trees now cover about 20% of the property, and each year Michael tries to add 2,000–5,000 more, to support landscape health, and provide livestock shelter and extra income. 

Diversity is key to the integrated business the 2022 Australian Farmer of the Year manages – 5,000 Merino sheep, a mixed Angus herd, 180ha of commercial timber and an on-site mill, as well as farm-stay accommodation. He is first and foremost a grower of strong, bright superfine wool, but Michael is also a dedicated father, engineer, photographer, intrepid white-water kayaker and an advocate for productive, profitable agricultural enterprises that “work with nature, rather than against it”. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #148

Outback Magazine: April/May 2023