By Phil Jarratt
They might be the star couple of new-age farming, but Bray Farms directors Nina and Mitch Bray have much bigger goals in mind.
Through their company properties in the Darling Downs and Noosa Shire in Cootharaba, they want to demonstrate by personal example that farming, even in these difficult times of drought and floods, can be profitable, rewarding and sustainable. Just put in the Bray Farms mantra: biodynamic, organic, regenerative.
As secretary of Country Noosa, and with both hands full as a mother of three during school holidays, Nina was magically trying to find an extra hand to organize the launch of the Innovate To Regenerate campaign at the hotel Apollonian at Boreen Point next month when Noosa Today landed on Easter Monday.
The family had just returned from an Easter run to check out the company’s western farming operations, the children crashed on sofas after the four-hour drive, but the Brays were the perfect hosts.
Speaking honestly, Nina says she has been involved at the deep end to help organize the smallest details of the World Wide Fund for Nature sponsored regeneration campaign, which aims to help fund and promote a wider understanding of what what regenerative agriculture techniques can do for a community, and more broadly, for the agricultural industry.
But the mission couldn’t be in better hands. While Nina clearly knows how to explain the benefits of organic farming, her husband Mitch has a laid-back approach to explaining how it works, paddock by paddock, crop by crop.
Together they strive to explain how farming can function as a way of life and a business in a frightening new era defined by climate change, food shortages and supply chain issues.
Bray Farms came together just over a decade ago when Nina, from a rural upbringing in the Darling Downs, and Mitch, from the same area in western New South Wales, reunited and decided to start a family and a business.
Because of their roots in the land, Bray Farms’ initial business model was a completely conventional large-acreage crop, but when the kids started arriving, things changed.
Nina says, “Having kids really changed our minds about how we did things. We had a huge spray rig and Mitch would tell me to take the kids when he was spraying the property.
“So we asked our agronomist to sit down at the kitchen table and talk with us about how we could change. Together we put measures in place to make it as risk-free as possible.
“We were building the business and couldn’t afford not to have any income from the property for three years, but we found ways.”
The game changer for the Brays came when, at age 35, Mitch suffered a stroke, believed to be caused by Lyme disease.
During a stop-start recovery, his immune system was severely compromised and what was just a simple idea became an imperative.
Says Mitch: “When I got sick it pushed us strongly in that direction, it was a big boost.”
Nina: “That’s when we bought the beach farm, that’s what we call this place in Cootharaba, because it’s much closer than us.
“We also found the climate in the west was changing just as we entered the 2018-19 drought, so it was a good option for our type of farming.”
During this period, Bray Farms sold the farms they could not convert to the organic/regenerative model because they had been compromised by genetically modified crops, and through the farm management arm of the company. company, they began to see that there was a lot of opposition to their vision of future agriculture.
Mitch says, “We’re also contract farmers, so we made contracts with our neighbors and a lot of them had strong opinions about what we were trying to do. A typical response was, why don’t you just use less chemicals? They would never want to go all the way.
Nina: “People have millions of dollars tied up in their farms and they can’t afford to miss a beat. It’s tough enough with a long drought without adding a new element of risk.
“So we had a lot of people telling us it just couldn’t be done.
“Well, we’re now into our seventh year of growing organic grain out west. There’s always a way to do it if you’re looking for it.
If you’re not a farmer, or even a gardener, the concepts of biodynamic, organic, and regenerative agriculture are somewhat difficult to grasp, but Mitch Bray has a way of breaking them down.
“I’m a big proponent of animals running around your cropland if you’re going to go organic. All of our crops grow on land shared with our animals, which goes against the conventional view.
“To me, not having animals on the land is like giving your crops anorexia. You’re depriving them of nutrition. We’re takers of the land, so we have to make sure we give back as well.
“We try to maintain that balance, but give back more than we take.
“Here in Noosa we are always trying to figure out if the land is better for what we do than in the west. We are still working on the rhythms.
“What we have discovered in the west is that we harvest all our crops at the same time, but the way we work does not have the same downgrades, which is related to the fertility of our soils and the biodynamics. At least that’s my observation. »
Meanwhile, from their now semi-permanent base in Cootharaba, the Brays are working to help create a community of organic and regenerative farmers, while simultaneously working on hemp seeding and growing. occupying 250 head of registered pureblood Wagyu and Angus. crossed with the Wagyu bull. Mitch says, “We’re trying to build resilience in our herd because it’s not easy land for cattle.
Nina: “Through what I do with Country Noosa, I know there are so many young people who want to get back to the land and work it in new ways, and I think what Agri-Hub and the biosphere of Noosa are trying to do in this area, take the hassle out of land contracts etc., that’s great.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing more people here in the backcountry taking advantage of the opportunities on the pitch. When we first came here, we pushed the earth hard, and it was happy to be worked and it responded, it thrived.
Nina says of the Innovate to Regenerate campaign: “Well, we already do that, but part of regenerating in agriculture is integrating those same principles into the way you live your life, so I think the Community building is so important in this area.. We found that so much during Covid.
“And now we are looking at what is happening in the United States, Canada and elsewhere where they are suffering from food shortages and supply chain disruptions, which reminds us of the importance for us to build a local food economy. in Noosa. I have been fortunate through Country Noosa and NBRF to meet so many people who agree.
“The Regenerating Australia film screening is a wonderful opportunity to bring people together to discuss this.
“Farmers are notoriously difficult to get off the farm, but I hope inviting them to a pub will work! We’re going to invite some musicians and make the night really fun.
Regenerating Australia will be screened at the Apollonian Hotel, Boreen Point on Thursday May 5, with live music and guest speakers. Further details will be published in Noosa Today.