View from my verandah: Paul and Jenny O’Sullivan

28 January 2016

Producers Paul and Jenny O’Sullivan open the gates to their Gippsland, Victoria, property to share their love of agriculture, the environment and people. They run agri-tours to showcase local produce and host students and teachers to build links between education and agriculture.

Here they share their farming challenges and also why they open their gate to the community.

Take us on a walk through your property: ‘Malabar’ is 640ha of grazing and 40ha of preserved remnant vegetation. We run 2,200 crossbred ewes and 400 Poll Hereford and Angus-cross breeders. Second-cross prime lambs are sold to Coles at 20-22kg dressed weight, while cattle have several markets including to local store markets at 12 months of age or finished at 450-500kg liveweight (18 months of age) for the Gippsland Natural beef brand.

Why do you open the gate to the community? We combined our backgrounds in agricultural extension and consulting with our love of our region’s food and passion for sustainable farming and launched ‘Gippsland Food Adventures’ in 2012. We link the environment, agriculture and people through corporate team-building, on-farm visits and regional food tours.

How have you introduced the next generation to farming? We share our story through MLA’s Target 100 and the Virtual Farm teaching resource, so it was a logical step. We hosted 10 high school teachers in 2014, as part of a Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia initiative during the Geography Teachers of Victoria’s Annual Conference. Over two days in October last year, we hosted two groups of Year 9 Geography students (85 in total) from Donvale Christian College, Melbourne.

What did you show the students? The students were studying food security and landscape sustainability so they were really interested in our production systems and the future of farming. We took them through our ‘conception to consumption’ system and explained the science involved. They inspected lambs to see where different meat cuts come from, learned about pasture management and walked through preserved bushland on our property. We finished off with a meal of home-grown beef and lamb, to encourage students to make the connection between livestock production and food.

Why do you think this was important to you, as producers? We focused on communicating how producers use science and data to make decisions and run professional enterprises which are committed to environmental sustainability and animal wellbeing. We explained how we use soil tests to monitor key nutrients and look after our soil, drench resistance tests and worm counts for animal health, and how we incorporate performance figures and EBVs (estimated breeding values) to select bulls.

Why should producers talk directly to students? The community often hears about the tough times in agriculture, so we wanted students to think of our industry as the best career choice, not their last choice. Red meat production underpins regional development and we, as an industry and as individual producers, need to promote this to attract the best and brightest.

What’s happening on-farm this month? Record low rainfall and warm temperatures for 2015 have the paddocks looking like it is March – little pasture cover and low water supplies. This month we destocked further, selling all but a handful of lambs to various buyers according to their weights and the young cattle we didn’t sell in the spring have been away on agistment and will be sold shortly. We are feeding purchased cereal hay to maintain breeder numbers and their calves, while excavators have been busy cleaning existing dams and digging new ones, which have been utilising water from underground aquifers.

What is on the horizon for your business? We have been inspired to continue connecting with the next generation of red meat consumers and plan to work with schools.

How can other producers connect with consumers? It’s important for producers to tell their own story and provide accurate information as there are many misconceptions about red meat production. What producers often take for granted is really interesting to people who don’t live on the land. It begins with communicating to your networks of friends and family, to share the realities of red meat production and the good work producers do, every day.

More information:

Paul and Jenny O’Sullivan E: osulliva@dcsi.net.au 
Target 100: http://www.target100.com.au/Farmer-stories/Paul-Jenny-OSullivan 
Virtual Farm: http://virtualfarm.mla.com.au/ 
Website: http://www.gippslandfoodadventures.com.au/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GippslandFoodAdventures/ 
Twitter: @0sullivanjenny0, #gippslandfoodadventures

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