This is branded content for Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
CATCHING up and sharing information with young farmers of a similar age doesn't "just happen".
Planning to connect over specific topics of interest has been one of the secrets to a successful young farmers group in the Whitsunday region, which in turn is having benefits for the environment and the reef.
The Proserpine Young Farmers group boasts more than 40 members and is delivering networking opportunities plus genuine, usable information for sugar cane producers to improve their farming practices and reduce run-off into the reef.
One of the early supporters of the group, and current treasurer, was Justin Blair, Myrtlevale.
Mr Blair farms 300 hectares of sugarcane, producing between 16,000 tonnes in a dry year and 24,000 tonnes with good moisture.
The Proserpine Young Farmers group consists of members under the age of 40, with growers, harvest operators, haul-out drivers, accountants, engineers and agronomists involved.
The topics discussed within the group include best farming techniques for chemical use, ground preparation, rotational crops, spray calibration, precision agriculture, drone use, sugar pricing and marketing, pest control, water and soil testing and fertiliser efficiency.
By sharing their experiences, the group is able to help each other adopt farming best practice to maximise returns while also minimising run-off of nutrients, chemicals and sediment into reef catchments.
Former Sugar Research Australia (SRA) adoption officer Molly O'Dea was one of the driving forces behind the group, with support coming in from young farmers themselves.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is working with peer-to-peer groups like the Proserpine group to enable the adoption of best farming practice to grow the economy and safeguard the natural environment.
DAF funded the group as part of its Reef Water Quality Improvement Program so they could see first-hand examples of best practice farming improving production and reducing run-off into the reef.
This included two cross-regional field trips visiting farms in the Burdekin and Herbert catchments, as well as a visit to the Australian Institute of Marine Science near Townsville, to meet with water quality scientists.
The group also produced videos for a public Facebook page to allow all members of the cane, and wider community to learn from their activities.
Mr Blair said planning and advanced notice was one of the keys to holding a successful event for the group.
"We mostly try and plan things in the off-season," he said.
"It seems like it is hard to get young farmers, or farmers in general, around to the regular meetings but if we plan out something that people see the value in going... we get support," he said.
THE group is more than just a sounding board for ideas between farmers.
It works off the concept of peer-to-peer learning, where people who share a concern or passion connect and lead their own personal learning and development.
Recent research by DAF shows almost 60 per cent of producers use peer to peer groups and 80pc say other farmers are their most trusted source of information about farming best practice.
Mr Blair said it was important the group as a whole guided what they wanted to learn about.
"Once we find out what the group wants to learn, it's really easy to find someone that's keen just to do it, do a workshop and present to the group," he said.
"Everyone puts a pretty high price on their time."
There have been field trips to farms outside the region, and even one to the Hay Point coal terminal to see how that business manages its environmental requirements.
In line with that, the group has been able to purchase a flow metre so members can investigate their irrigation and water usage with the intent of managing it better.
"Once you know how much water you are putting on you can see if you need to adjust it," Mr Blair said.
For Mr Blair's own operation, like most in the district, the farm is reliant on rainfall with a relatively conservative 1 - 1.5 megalitre water allocation used to top things up when needed.
WHILE he enjoys bouncing ideas off his contemporaries, Mr Blair said he knows experience is gold, and therefore he draws on his father's 40-plus years in the industry for guidance.
"I take on a fair bit of dad's advice seeing he has got a fair bit of experience in the industry," Mr Blair said.
In keeping with the pursuit of lifting the farming game, the Blair farm has gone through best management practice protocols through the SmartCane accreditation program, which recognises their management of soil health and nutrients.
On-farm practices such as widening bed rows to 1.8m and trialling selective band herbicide spraying have been adopted.
Other lifts in efficiency have been achieved through innovation such as the installation of cameras inside fertiliser boxes for monitoring purposes, and the introduction of an Enviroscan probe to measure soil moisture, salinity, temperature and humidity, plus a tensiometer to learn more about irrigation requirements and soil moisture.
"I've got a weather station that automatically logs the environmental conditions for me, and the GPS in the tractors helps with record keeping for me as well," Mr Blair said.
The family's willingness to engage third parties in an effort to lift sustainability can also be seen in their collaborations.
The Blairs are working with SRA, as part of the Myrtle Creek Sub-catchment project, and have installed water quality samplers in a paddock.
YOUTH is no hurdle to Mr Blair, who is on the board of Canegrowers Proserpine.
He was also nominated for, and accepted, a role on the National Farmers' Federation Young Farmers' Council which resulted in a trip to Canberra to meet with politicians.
Mr Blair said there were common issues between young growers, even from differing fields.
The three main concerns were barriers of entry to farming, innovation adoption (having the means to take up new farming technologies), and the need for clarification over carbon net zero and what it means for agriculture.
DIVERSIFICATION is also in order for the Blair family with the launch of Myrtlevale Fingerlimes about six years ago. Mr Blair's father, Mark Blair, drives the side business which now consists of about 450 trees, with produce being sold locally, direct from the farm and to restaurants.
"My father has a passion for native foods and it just so happens that fingerlimes are one that you can make a bit of money off," Mr Blair said.
Getting the fingerlime production right has taken some trial and error in regards to varieties and soil conditions but the family has plans to continue on with production, despite the distance from major urban centres.
"It's always about the local support for industry which makes it work," he said. Connect with Proserpine Young Farmers through their Facebook page.
This is branded content for Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.