On a farm in the mid-north of South Australia wheat, barley, canola, lentils, chickpeas, peas, faba beans, linseed, sunflowers and mungbeans are cultivated. This place is Anashka Farms – a family run, intergenerational estate with a diverse mix of cropping. Anashka Farms is also where the recipient of the 2018 inaugural Nufarm National Grain Innovation Award is based.

Meet Tom Robinson, a man whose family have been working the land between Halbury and Hoyleton for nearly 150 years.

Tom recently received the Grain Innovation Award for demonstrating innovative practices on his farm.

We caught up with Tom to discuss his submission and what he plans to do with the prize – funding towards an overseas tour to further his knowledge of innovative farming practice

Six inches of topsoil and rain. 

When attending a conference years ago, Tom heard something that has stuck with him since.

Despite all our achievements we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.

He says it’s something he often thinks about when working towards making his farm more sustainable.

“As farmers, we mistreat our most precious resource – our soil. A truckie doesn’t abuse his truck to the point it stops working, or a cafe owner doesn’t burn the shop down every year, so why as farmers do we treat our soil like dirt? As an old farmer once said to me “live like you will die tomorrow, but farm like you will live forever,” Tom says.

Soil health the focus

One of the main focuses on Anashka Farms is profitability through soil health. Remarkably, his farm has been zero-till for 16 years and has used stubble retention for a quarter of a century.

Tom’s submission for the National Grain Innovation Award looked at how his system for soil health has been constantly evolving, especially in the past decade.

“We purchased a stripper header in 2010 to keep long straw and protect the soil from water and wind erosion,” Tom says. “We started moving into controlled traffic farming in 2010, completing the system in 2015. Cover crops started in 2012 after my first trip to the USA, and companion cropping started in 2015.”

Why is soil health so important?

Apart from improving the productivity of his land, soil health directly influences the quality of the produce. Tom believes there is a trend towards safe, nutritious and tasty food. Consumers want to know how that food has been grown and raised and what connection it has back to the farmer. Sustainable farming practices ensure both productivity and public demands are met.

What is Tom planning to do with the prize?

With the funding, Tom plans to travel to the US and Canada to visit progressive growers who are leading innovation in companion cropping and relay cropping. He hopes to bring back some great ideas in terms of crop mixes and ratios to test on his farm next year.

Congratulations to Tom Robinson for winning the 2018 Nufarm National Grain Innovation Award. We look forward to seeing what he learns during his overseas tour and what he incorporates into his system in the coming years.