The 2011 Farmer of the Year, Rob Ruwoldt, has developed soil-saving cropping methods that have changed grain farming profoundly, helping many people to stay on the land.

Story By Genevieve Barlow

It's mid-October and there’s six weeks before the great annual grain harvest takes off in Victoria. Out in the Wimmera, the heart of western Victoria’s legume and cereal country, Rob Ruwoldt, 49, and his son Justin, 26, are busy checking their John Deere is right to go. Justin has taken a cloth to the harvester’s smart black interior. He likes his machinery to be clean and smell good, he says. He’s like his father that way. Meticulous. Well-prepared.
They run their own show on 2850 hectares, growing wheat, barley, canola, fava beans and lentils. Soon they will know if their annual million-dollar-or-so dice roll, otherwise known as planting a crop, will pay off. As seasons go, this one could reap dividends. Real dividends. The growing-season rainfall has been about right and the crops are looking good. There’s a nervous energy about the place – a kind of excitement. The year’s work is coming to fruition.
The Ruwoldts have done everything right. They’ve spaced their growing rows to minimise soil compaction from machinery, planted in between the stubble left from last year’s crop, and dished out seed and fertiliser more precisely than a baker does flour for a loaf of bread. Grain from last year’s harvest is being moved around to make way for more. Spanners and shifters hang in their place on the wall in the main shed. Hose rings are lined up by size. Nails, clamps and bits and pieces are sorted into boxes on shelves. Some days you could eat lunch off the shed floor.
It’s clear Rob and Justin are no ordinary farmers, doing what Grandpa did before them. This farm has been the site of a quiet evolution. “I got told a lot of things through all those years, that this wouldn’t work, that that wouldn’t work, but the people who said that hadn’t tried it,” Rob says. “So I stopped listening and knuckled down to try and make it work. And it did.”
It’s taken almost 30 years but Rob’s work has changed grain farming profoundly. In September, the impact of that change was recognised when he was named Australian Farmer of the Year.

This story excerpt is from Issue #80

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2012