Australian Farmer of the Year Michael Taylor shows how farming diversity can lead to sustainability – ABC News

Australian Farmer of the Year Michael Taylor shows how farming diversity can lead to sustainability - ABC News

Coming back to the family merino operation in 2004, Michael Taylor never imagined diversity he brought to the rolling hills of the farm would see him crowned the 2022 Farmer of the Year.

That is exactly what has happened, though, with My Taylor recognised for the way he has kept traditional roots alive while diversifying the operation to ensure its survival and sustainability.

It has come as quite a shock, and he is humble about the new title he has been given.

“It’s really nice to get the recognition, but straight away, I was thinking of all the farmers I’ve looked up to over the years and the farmers that still inspire me,” Mr Taylor said.

“I’m very lucky to get a nomination, but it really is a team effort.”

At Taylor’s Run, the family have been producing superfine merino wool for six generations since the 1840s.

That is a tradition Mr Taylor has continued, but with the support of his wife Milly and parents, he has diversified the operation so the farm can continue sustainably for many generations to come.

The family operate an agritourism venture with accommodation on the farm, but much of the diversification has come in the form of regenerative agriculture.

A man in the middle with a older woman on his right and an older man on his left with a vegetation in the bcakground.

There is a particular focus on tree planting and agroforestry, and the establishment of pine and native forests has led to biodiversity benefits, extra shade and shelter for livestock and revenue.

“We’ve always looked for innovations on and off the farm. Trees have definitely been one of the big alternative enterprises on this farm,” Mr Taylor said.

“We talk about previous generations that were clearing trees and learning some hard lessons through New England dieback with all the tree loss.

“So there’s been a lot to learn, and my parents took on the bulk of revegetating the property, and we’ve been able to grow that enterprise into something a bit more mature.”

A man holds a yard gate open to let sheep through as a dog rounds them up.

A saviour during drought

The forests have also been a saving grace during the three droughts Mr Taylor has farmed through.

Not only have they provided extra protection for soil and livestock, but the trees have also been a source of income to offset the impacts of dry times.

In 2008, Mr Taylor integrated a sawmill into the farm to process their own timber, with their logs worth anywhere between $300 and $1,000. 

A man in a safety helmet and ear protection works on a sawing machine in a shed.

“Initially, it was shade and shelter for the livestock, but there was always the potential for the pine to be commercially harvested,” he said.

“So we’ve been able to, in small bites along the way, manage those forests to continue to add value by pruning and thinning the pines, and we’re getting better at that.”

Mr Taylor said pines that he had planted only 14 years ago were now four to five hundred millimetres in diameter.

“It’s just mind-blowing how quickly you can grow big logs,” he said.

“It was always in the back of my mind that if we had to sell all our livestock or agist them elsewhere, we knew already that we could run the sawmill and pay wages, have an income.”

The radiata pines are the main species grown commercially and continually established on the farm with trees replanted.

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Taking care of land

Michael’s mum and dad, Vicki and Jon Taylor, were at the forefront of the forest planting that their son has expanded.

“We’ve always believed in our family and talked about how the land was something that we had. It was our tools of trade,” Jon said.

“The idea was that with each generation, we would use it to make a living, but we would try and leave it in better shape than when we each started on it.

“It’s nice to have Michael getting so involved and to see him be rewarded for the efforts he’s put in.”

An aerial view of sheep in a paddock that is surrounded by trees.

Since the 1980s, the family has planted more than 200,000 trees, and the addition of Mr Taylor’s native forests has seen wildlife and biodiversity boom on the farm.

Something his mum, Vicki, said was special to see.

“To see the different species now thriving because, for a start, the climate was so harsh we could only try really tough and not so nice plants and trees, ” she said.

“… Now Michael is able to grow a lot more diverse native species.”

Standing around a large tree, an older man on the left, a man in the midle, and a woman on right.

Mr Taylor said he hoped all that had been achieved so far by him and his family continued for generations to come.

“I wouldn’t call it a static set-up by any means,” he said.

“I think future generations will have their own ideas of how they do things. And I hope they do have new ideas to enhance what we’ve got here.”

The ABC co-founded the Farmer of the Year Award with the Kondinin Group in 2010 in order to recognise best practice and excellence in agriculture.

Nominations are provided by the community, and the winners are selected by a panel of independent judges.

The announcements were made at Parliament House in Canberra at an event hosted by the Kondinin Group and the ABC.

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