Victorian Farmer Ian McClelland combines his passions for science and agriculture to promote better outcomes for rural Australia.

Story By Kathy Mexted

A red-dirt track leads a gentle dance through the 20 hectares of remnant vegetation surrounding Ian and Anne McClelland’s home, “Cambrae”, 27 kilometres east of Birchip, in north-western Victoria. The McClellands have farmed here for three generations, in flat paddocks as far as your eyes can strain. The mainstays of their 8000-hectare enterprise are sheep and cropping. With arms outspread as if to embrace the property’s remaining patch of mallee scrub, Ian reflects on a strong connection to this land. “This is pretty much how the landscape would have looked to my grandfather when he selected this place over 100 years ago,” he says.
Ian always knew he’d return to the farm, and once he completed an agricultural-science degree at Melbourne University in 1971, that’s exactly what he did. While older brother Warrick settled at the family homestead, Ian and Anne built a large modern house next door on Cambrae.
Today the house is unencumbered by formal plantings and large windows create harmony with the sights and sounds of the bush, where the pet magpie and “Schnapps” the dog vie for attention. “What really makes our farm work is that Warrick and I separated the responsibilities for the business,” Ian says. “Warrick managed livestock and I took over the cropping, and though we work pretty well together, final decisions fall to one person.”
Best known as chairman of the innovative Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) since its inception in 1992, Ian is credited as one of the driving forces behind the team that made it into an award-winning organisation.
“In 1989, I joined a discussion group as part of a farm-improvement program,” Ian says. “One of the group turned up to the first meeting with all his financial records for us to take home and think about. It detailed everything except living expenses and interest, and it was a surprise … well, it was a revolution, really! Over the next couple of years we shared all our strengths and weaknesses. We quickly got past the financials, which means you can cut out the bullshit. We found that people really spend half their time worrying about lifestyle. Will the kids return to the farm? Is the community a good place to live? The school? Supermarket? Hospital? Etcetera.”
Inspired by a 1992 field-day trial site in South Australia, the BCG began with 50 members and one employee. Eighteen years later it is one of Australia’s leading groups owned and controlled by farmers. It has also revitalised Birchip (population 800), and holds more than 20 different events, expos and field days every day, often drawing attendances of up to 1000.

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: April/May 2010