In the three years since self-labelled ‘Google farmers’ Alex and Mark Westlake bought their own 12-hectare plot outside of Murray Bridge, they’ve learned to be grateful for two things.
Receiving Barry and Joanne Pfeiffer’s – Alex’s parents’ – invaluable knowledge as former 30-year owner-operators of a successful dairy of 450 milkers, is the first.
The second is the internet.
When they’re not busy plugging Google with ‘how to’ questions to learn how to develop their newly launched beef cattle and lamb enterprise, they’re showcasing stunning images of their enviable country lifestyle in the Murraylands on Instagram to a small but growing audience of aspiring young farmers.
“Our account name is ‘The Chef & The Chief – I’ll let you work out who’s who,” said Alex.
On-farm water conservation in South Australia’s dry climate is a both priority and a soon-to-be reality for the environmentally conscious pair.
A $104,000 grant from the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program (SARMS) will help Alex and Mark to begin reversing the impacts of the Millennium drought on their block through infrastructure investment.
They’ve estimated water savings of 16 megalitres can be achieved with a new 37 Kilowatt end-suction centrifugal pump, upgrades to the overhead sprinkler irrigation system and through night time automated watering.
“The old infrastructure that came with the block could have just been turned back on but that wouldn’t have been efficient or responsible,” said Alex.
“There has been an enormous amount of movement and cracking of the river flats soils over the years so the main delivery pipe from the River offtake to the pump will need to be replaced.
“There was also no access water from the River due to low water levels and reduced water allocations which meant we couldn’t use the permanent sprinkler irrigation system.
“With this grant, we will upgrade infrastructure and continue to develop our business ideas.”
And there’s no shortage of ideas, or questions to Google.
Twelve months ago, the Pfeiffer-Westlake family farm added sheep to its 130-hectare enterprise.
“We have 200 head of ewes between us that we’re growing for meat so Mark and I are learning about lambing and fattening them up to sell them for prime lamb,” said Alex.
“Mark and I have bought our own 20-head of cattle so we’re learning lots about calving and animal management,”
“I tell my friends we’re ‘Google farmers’ – we do so much online research for everything we can’t learn from my parents who have just been amazing with their support.
“We’re really lucky and so grateful for them and for the grant.
“It’s an exciting time to farm – we can share our experiences on social media and educate the public about the importance of family farming in Australia in the process.
“Not only that, the future of agribusiness requires diversification, making way for continual improved farming practices and sustainable outcomes.
“The internet and ability to access valuable information is helping us to achieve these goals as young farmers.”
Whether they’re sowing a Lucerne crop or deep in discussion with seed companies about their next crop trial, life on the farm is a whole new adventure for Alex, a specialist music teacher, and Mark who trained as a chef.
They were in the Kimberley in WA managing the luxury El Questro resort’s food and beverage department when South Australia called them home.
“We saw a fantastic opportunity to come back to the farm – we have a strong belief in paddock to plate food production and managing our water sustainably is an essential part of that,” Alex said.
SARMS is contributing to the South Australian Government’s commitment and implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. SARMS is funded by the Australian Government and is being delivered by Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) over six years to mid-2019.