Burkes named top Farmers of nation

By Daniel Hughes

Jerilderie farmers Peter and Renee Burke are still "shocked" after being named The Weekly Times Coles 2019 Farmers of the Year.

The Burke's attended the award evening on Thursday, February 20 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with the expectations that they had finished third within the Grain of the Year category.

Much to their surprise and some fortunate last minute planning, the couple were overwhelmed when they were not only selected as Cropping Farmer of the Year but also as the top farmers of the year nation-wide.

“We (Renne and I) had no idea we had one going in to the night, it was an announcement made when we were on stage,” Mr Burke said.

“We nearly didn't go to the awards too given how busy we've been with spraying and taking our children to and from sport.

“We made the decision to go last minute as the accommodation was already paid for with our RSVP and the rest is history.

“You don't see these things coming, you never expect to win the whole event nation-wide, we're just living our best life, doing our own thing.

“We're just Jerilderie/Finley locals and to think we were given the award among so many impressive farms, we still can't believe it.

“We're very proud of what we do and proud to be Australian farmers.”

In the farming year of 2019, the Burkes were able to produce four different crops (rice, oats, barley and straw), accomplishing this with dual season cropping on only a 1281 Ha property.

The Burkes are able to achieve this despite the ongoing drought and second straight year of zero water allocation the Southern Riverina has faced.

Mr Burke said that a lot of planning and execution goes in to each season, something they've been doing for more than 20 years on their Jerilderie farm.

“How we address water is back to front, we buy temporary water and do long-term deals which takes the risk out of dealing with the current drought and zero water allocation,” Mr Burke said.

“During the season we tend to have two different crops on the one paddock, we can harvest and two days later be planting the next crop, it takes a lot to accomplish this but we make sure we have the man-power at the time.”

After having their interview earlier in the year, Mr Burke said the results were kept "under wraps quite well" with only the three finalists being announced prior to the event.

“After we answered our questions, the reporter did their article and that was judged by the panel,” Mr Burke said.

“When we got there on the night I read the other articles and said to Renee ‘we're a clear third’, those in our class were very smart and experienced farmers.

“I didn't think we had a chance at winning at all. We're humbled to be considered among the other farmers, it hasn't really sunk in with us yet.”

The Burke's pride themselves on producing everything for Australian companies.

In the 2019 calendar year they grew 13.1 tones per Ha of rice which was sold to SunRice.

Their yield was reported at 33% above the industry average and won them the SunRice Grower of the Year in 2019.

The farm was able to produce a total of 3000 bails of straw which was subsequently sold to an Australian farmer.

They were able to grow oats at 5.1 tones per Ha which was sold to Uncle Tobys to make porridge and their barley at 4.9 tones per Ha and was sold to Nestle to make Milo.

The Australian represented awards had finalists travel from NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to attend the event.

Category winners were: Dairy of the Year - Mick and Paula Hughes, from Inverloch; Horticulture of the Year - Jason Shields from Plunkett Orchards at Ardmona; Farm Magazine Innovative Farmer of the Year - the Olsen family of Soilkee at Hallora; Sheep of the Year - Duncan and Jess Barber of Meltcalfe.

Each category winner received $5000 with the overall Farmer of the Year collecting a further $10,000.