Birchip farmer group steers steady course to success

Neil Lyon February 13, 2019

NEWLY-ELECTED chair of the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG), John Ferrier, has no plans to change the formula which has made the group such a standout success as a leader in farmer-driven research in Australia.

Mr Ferrier, who runs a sheep and livestock farm north of Birchip, has been a member of BCG since its inception in Victoria’s southern Mallee in 1993.

John Ferrier

He attributes the group’s long-running success and far-reaching reputation to its focus on farmer-driven research, coupled with the enthusiasm and community-mindedness of the people involved.

“The group has been a success because the research work we do has been a great benefit to farmers, not only in our region but right throughout Australia,” he said.

“It was set up at the time when governments were withdrawing from extension, so we have filled a big void in getting the latest scientific information out to farmers.”

Grassroots driven

Mr Ferrier said the group benefitted from being a not-for-profit organisation driven from the ground up.

“We have a number of research committees throughout the region who feed information into our staff about what they would like to see researched so it can benefit their businesses. Then BCG is either able to do that with its own resources or source funding from the RDCs that can really help farmers be at the cutting edge of new technology,” he said.

“We have a wide range of issues we are always researching and delivering information back to farmers as quickly as we can.

“What we are on about is profitable, happy and enthusiastic farmers which means we also have happy and productive communities. If farmers are making a profit it flows back through the communities and all the small towns benefit from organisations like BCG.”

BCG is currently researching issues that include:

  • looking at what use data can be to farmers, how it can be gathered and put into a form that is useful information.
  • a project with the Bureau of Meteorology looking at seasonal forecasting. The group has set up their own weather stations throughout the district that have soil moisture probes to help farmers make informed decisions.
  • the group runs National Variety Trials with the latest new varieties.
  • a pulse agronomy project.
  • a project on stubble retention.
  • a national paddock survey looking at production constraints and how farmers can maximise performance.
  • a range of livestock research projects, especially sheep “because those farms that also have livestock tend to be more resilient to dry seasons like lately when wool and meat have been going along really well”.

Birchip is in the southern Mallee region of Victoria.

People power

Mr Ferrier said the people who worked with and supported the organisation had been integral to its success.

“We have a young, dedicated staff of 20. It is really great to have enthusiastic young people who give BCG their heart and soul and enjoy the work they are doing. That is a great credit to our chief executive officer, Chris Sounness,” he said.

“The other thing I am really proud of is BCG has a good Board system where we have six farmer members from across the region and four non-executive directors who come from different areas of industry and research science. So, its governance and system really fall into place.

“BCG has a huge variety of people supporting it. We always respect (founding chair) Ian McClelland for the work he has done and the effort of those initial people who got it up and running.

“(Immediate past chair) Caroline Welsh has been instrumental in keeping BCG at the forefront of science-based research and extension.

“BCG is to me a combination of a lot of people who are happy to give their time to make sure it stays at the forefront of farmer-driven research in Australia.”

BCG deputy chair, Cherie Reilly, and chair, John Ferrier.

Field days

Field days have been a crucial part of the extension role BCG plays in relaying the latest research results to growers.

BCG’s annual members-only trials research update will be held at Birchip this Friday, February 15, where BCG staff will deliver reports on their research work.

BCG’s main open field day is held every year in September, providing a public showcase of the group’s work for the year.


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