The 2023 Farmer of the Year awards showcase the cream of the crop in our innovative agricultural industries.

Story Terri Cowley  Photo Kondinin Group

The directors of a sixth-generation farming enterprise in the Central West of NSW have been chosen as the recipients of the 2023 Farmer of the Year award. Andrew and Tess Herbert own the Eugowra-based Gundamain Pastoral Co, and pride themselves on their ability to adapt and change when facing a challenge. And the challenges were presented in bucketloads when their town was virtually wiped off the map in flash flooding last November.

The Herberts are the 13th winners of the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural Australian Farmer of the Year award announced at Parliament House in Canberra on June 20. OUTBACK is a media partner to the awards. The annual awards recognise excellence in farming and farming communities across rural and regional Australia.

Being 3km from Eugowra, the Herberts consider themselves more fortunate than most. Two people died in the record-breaking floods and about a third of the town’s population – 150 people – were airlifted off their roofs when an 11.2m wall of water caught people by surprise.

The Herberts had 50km of fencing destroyed, but were able to keep their cattle feedlot going to ensure cashflow and employment for locals. They’ve begun replacing stock, and have restarted their breeding and planting programs. “We’re much further ahead than we expected,” Tess says. “But we are gobsmacked with this award as we are just family farmers. We do what a lot of our mates do. It is a real honour.”

When Andrew and Tess took over the company in the 1990s, it was a small, mixed farming enterprise. With the construction of a new feedlot in 2000, the business now consists of a 6,000 head cattle feedlot, 6,500–7,000 ewes for lamb and wool production, 5,500ha of cropping, hay silage and pasture, and some 400ha set aside for remnant vegetation. In addition to feeding all Gundamain-owned cattle for a major domestic retailer and export markets, the feedlot site is used by schools and universities.

Ben White, Kondinin Group’s general manager of research, says Tess and Andrew are outstanding recipients of this year’s award. “Their innovative mindset has put them in a significant position to successfully navigate business and environmental challenges while maintaining a passion for farming,” Ben says. “Their extension to lot feeding, investment in infrastructure, use of technology across multiple areas of the farm, and their involvement within industry and their local community is substantial and deserving of praise.”

Young Farmer of the Year is Mitchell McNab, a fifth-generation fruit grower in Ardmona in northern Victoria. He manages his family’s orchard, which is more than 100 years old, growing varieties of apples, pears and plums. He is consistently considering new varieties with improved systems to develop the best quality and return per hectare. “There is a new group of young people coming through in our industry,” Mitchell says. “I want to encourage more younger people to come through.” Mitchell is excited by robotics and other new technologies in the horticultural industry. “Robotics will be critical for the next 20–30 years to reduce our reliance on labour,” he says. “Without that, the average family farm is going to struggle to participate in the industry long-term.”

Ben says judges were impressed with Mitchell’s consideration of progressive management practices and his introduction of agtech to support efficiency. “Young farmers seem to have their eyes wide open when it comes to the potential of introducing agtech on farm and aren’t afraid to break the bounds of traditional growing strategies,” Ben says. “Mitchell’s goal is clearly the survival and longevity of the orchard and sustaining profitability while supporting industry growth, and he has the right attitude to make that a reality.”

Ingrid Roth from Narrabri, NSW, is Rural Consultant of the Year. Ingrid works with rural industries, research organisations and rural communities throughout NSW, while also co-owning and managing a cherry orchard in Mudgee. Recently in the horticulture industry, Ingrid has helped to deliver a robust, achievable sustainability framework that the industry can now champion.

A prime example of how to follow your passions in agriculture, mature-age student Jay Elliot from WA is Agricultural Student of the Year. Jay is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Science in animal science/animal health at Murdoch University. Her passion lies in livestock, but she has broadened her experience by participating in a 6-week scholarship in Indonesia.

This story excerpt is from Issue #150

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2023