Minisode - RACQ Foundation in Morven Part 2

Join RACQ Foundation in drought stricken Morven, Queensland chatting to local resident Michael McKellar.

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Show notes

Join RACQ Foundation in drought stricken Morven, Queensland chatting to local resident Michael McKellar.

Guests

  • Cattle grazier and property owner near Morven, Michael McKellar.
  • RACQ Foundation volunteer Andrew van der Beek.

Transcript

Anthony Frangi: Hello and welcome to another podcast from RACQ Living. I'm Anthony Frangi. Everyone knows what impacts the current drought is having on our farmers. Over 50% of Queensland is still drought declared and the situation doesn't appear to be getting any better. And that's where the RACQ Foundation comes in. It was established in 2011 following Cyclone Yasi and the floods affecting south-east Queensland, and since then the RACQ Foundation has distributed millions of dollars to those in need. Recently, the Foundation sent six mechanical and six non-mechanical RACQ staff to Morven. It's a town in south-west Queensland around 91 kilometres east of Charleville where the population is just shy of 300. Michael McKellar is a cattle grazier and owns a property just outside Morven. His farm has been in the family for generations and it's currently diversifying his produce into desert limes. In this interview, Michael talks to Andrew van der Beek about the challenges farmers are facing today, how diversification is making a real difference and how this drought is likely to affect farming businesses for many years to come.

Michael McKellar: Yeah, my family's been here on this property. We purchased that in 1956, but actually in this region, we've been in here since the late 1800s. These properties were taken up by other companies and the family originally came out as shepherds and they actually would contract down to the south of us down the well water road there. That's where they were. They were rather large land holdings at that time. And then obviously through the attrition of time and then the first and second world wars, those lands were actually broken up into smaller parcels.

Andrew van der Beek: And you've got adult children? Do you think that's the next generation in waiting for this?

Michael McKellar: For sure, they'd love to be in agriculture. However, the challenge is going to be different. It doesn't mean to say that it's not possible. And I think in the future that farming is going to have a totally different face to what we see today. But, I think that it's really important to recognise the rural imprint that happens on the next generation and the value of it and what it does.

Andrew van der Beek: So what sort of challenges did they have before them?

Michael McKellar: We've always had the value of land, whether there's no relativity between what we pay for the land as to turning capacity, but I think that people are going to have to be a little bit more innovative about the enterprise mixes what they do, how they collect their intellectual property, how they conduct their businesses. It can be difficult at times and it depends on how you actually deal with that challenge. And I don't talk about fighting droughts, I think you've got to live with these dry periods. We've got to learn this landscape, understand how to survive in it. And agriculture is a very expensive game. I think the RACQ Foundation being here is very important because we need that connectivity. The linkages need to be able to express our story in a real way that we have hardships. Just no different to what you guys have. But it's a great opportunity and I think it's a great testimony to RACQ Foundation to actually be here, and be doing, and I like if you like they've got skin in the game.

Michael McKellar: It's really great to be able to tell our story. We live and breathe this story, day in, day out. And we find it very, very difficult to be able to divorce our business from our life. It just intrudes into every part like 24 hours a day, if you like, but it's a lifestyle that we've chosen. It's a great opportunity I think that we've got here to actually be in rural Australia.

Andrew van der Beek: Mental health is a challenge though, isn't it? When the times are tough it can be hard to keep that positivity.

Michael McKellar: Oh, I think surrounding yourself with confident people and prosperous people is a good thing. Positivity, but sometimes being positive is not the answer. It's actually dealing with when the positive plan goes astray and you've got to get up and deal with it yourself.

Andrew van der Beek: Adaptability is obviously a huge part of modern agriculture. Catalyst kind of where you're, I guess where you've been, but you are now looking to diversify into a new territory. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about the desert limes.

Michael McKellar: Yeah, look we see the opportunity. We used to have another supplementing enterprise in sheep and wool production. We're not in that space at the moment because of the wild dogs, the dingoes and what have you. So we've elected to try, and get into the desert limes and I do believe that we could probably run a number of enterprises on this area of land apart from just cattle and sheep and wool and desert limes. It's probably hadn't been as difficult for me as what it may not have been. I've been fortunate to actually receive a Nuffield Scholarship, travelled around the world, studied what have you. And we've got a tremendous network of people. So, with any new diversification program, I believe you need to have support mechanisms and I know that I'm removed distance wise from a lot of those people. However, it's great to be able to pick up the phone and get the specialist knowledge that I need at any point.

Andrew van der Beek: Now, you had the opportunity to take some leadership roles within the community. Tell me a little bit about how you advocate for your community in some of the groups that you're involved in.

Michael McKellar: It's about actually trying to get ownership and true representation for these regions. So, to lead our community to understand why we're actually advocating or asking for change and money or projects that we wish to develop and ask the critical questions about why we need it ... And do some critical thinking on what the request is all about. We all work together and it's about “us not I” and it's about building a team. So, we're in a whole process of really good executive around me with our progress association at the moment and we're working with that community and what have you. We've got to do the little things right. And then the big things will come along later. I advocate to people ... When I look out I don't see money, I actually see animals, livestock that we're responsible for.

Michael McKellar: The hard part is actually, yeah divorcing yourself from ... I mean, we are totally responsible for what happens. We choose to farm these animals and what have you so, that becomes a big responsibility and of course when we can't provide them with enough feed and nourishment and what have you. And you start to see them die because of the lack of nutrition and what have you. Yeah, it's a responsibility that we own, and you've got to live with that and take the responsibility of it. Because it's not all about, "Hey listen we're just going to put these cattle on the truck and sell them”. I mean, we've got to look ahead. Any decision we make, we buy a bull. It's three years before we actually get the calf in the marketplace. So, they're long term decisions, and it's always difficult, but people are saying how dry this drought has been, how hard it is.

Michael McKellar: We need to reflect a little, we've been through droughts where we didn't have the availability of water and infrastructure and stuff that we've got today. I mean, even just communication in itself is like it's only 15 years ago that we didn't have extensive and modern technology and phones. It's real, it affects us. I would think that it's kind of ... this drought will probably affect our business for the next four to five years. That's been here and now and there to come. So, we will optimize what we're doing. So, we've looked at restructuring our cattle numbers so that we've got less. We're trying to target different markets and yeah, so there's many changes and we work with consultants and so forth. So, we're trying to get on top of that as well. To the RACQ Foundation, I'd like to say a hardy thank you very much for taking the opportunity, giving us an opportunity that we didn't realise was out there.

Michael McKellar: And it's heartening that you guys want to invest in it and I'm going to say that, but it's more important I think for the support and building morale, like to actually know that there are people out there that care about agriculture.

Anthony Frangi: That's Michael McKellar, a cattle grazier just outside Morven in south-west Queensland. If you would like more information about the RACQ foundation, visit our RACQ website. I'm Anthony Frangi. Join me next time for more RACQ Living.