Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone got started in a different way, and every farm has a different combination of family and hired staff who make the decisions and keep things running. But, in general, even after you consider all the details, farmers are more alike than different. Even if they live on the other side of the globe.
This is the story of Ruth and Steven Mansell and their farm, Emerald Downs, in Western Australia.
Where do you farm?
Ruth and Stephen operate Emerald Downs in Neridup, which is located 30 km north of the southern coast of Western Australia, about 97 km east of Esperance.
What do you grow?
Emerald Downs consists of 4410 acres, about half of which is wheat, 1/4 is barley and the rest is canola and lupines.
Who do you farm with?
Ruth and Steven have four daughters. Tegal is married to Steve and they have 2 boys. Kia and Adam are expecting their first. Honni and Matt operate Ascend Films and have two boys. Zoey is living the dream, working on an island.
Although they are all in different careers now, they all grew up helping out on the farm and still do so during busy times. Their Canadian son-in-law Adam is helping out this year on a full-time basis. This is a trial year for Adam, and so far he is loving the Australian farm life.
Steve’s family is originally from Victoria and moved to Western Australia, close to Condingup, when he was nine. They cleared a block of virgin bush there in 1961. Steve and his brother John cleared their own block in 1978. Ruth is from an established farm in Dumbleyung. She was teaching at Esperance when she met Steve and married him in 1980.
How long have you been farming?
Steve was in his early 20s and working in the mines when he and his brother decided that they had farming in their blood. Because farming with their parents was not a viable option, they started share farming in 1974. In 1978 they went looking for land. Then the block of 5,000 acres that is currently Emerald Downs came up at $22/acre, uncleared. John and Steve now each operate their own farms on this block.
What is your favourite farming season?
Ruth and Steve both choose harvest. Ruth says, “It’s fun, with family coming and helping out, and it’s a culmination of all your efforts.”
What is a farm implement that you can’t live without?
Steve says, “Our sprayer which is a 6333 Miller nitro from the U.S. I spend more hours sitting on the sprayer than any other machine because of the importance of controlling weeds and conserving moisture.”
Why did you choose farming?
Steve says, “because it’s in our blood.”
Ruth became part of the farm when she married Steve in 1980. One of the things she noticed was that the farmers in this area are innovative and open to new ideas, compared to people in more established farming areas. This area was some of the last land to be cleared in Australia. The difficulties of producing a crop on this soil forced farmers to try new things to produce a crop.
Tell me about a good decision you’ve made on the farm?
Steve, immediately: “Marrying my wife was a good decision.”
Tell me about the bad decision that you’ve made on the farm?
Steve: “Well we’ve all made many decisions and some of them not so good. One that stands out was an investment property we bought in Esperance when the market was high in 2008, and it was not a good investment.”
What are the biggest opportunities you see in the next five to 10 years?
Steve: “Using new technology and gaining efficiencies” Steve also discussed ways that the farm might incorporate alternate weed management strategies to reduce the amount of traditional pesticides used on their farm.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the next five to 10 years?
Steve: “The war against weeds and continuous cropping. This is why I run the Integrated Harrington Seed Destructor behind the combine. There’s no guarantee that the herbicides we have access to today will be viable in the future, especially as we look at what’s happening, for example, with glyphosate.”
Ruth: “What to do with the farm as we look at retirement. There’s so much wrapped up in a farm; it’s not just a farm”
What do you like to do for fun?
Steve and Ruth and their family love camping, four-wheel driving, and travelling overseas. They have been to Canada on an agricultural study tour, and Steve especially loves learning about WWII history in Europe.
Dorothee van Dijk writes from southern Alberta