Despite farmers being the custodians of our land, we rarely seem to hear from them – so we asked Young Farmer of the Year Anika Molesworth to tell us what her world looks like, and what sustainable farming in Australia could entail. Be prepared to be blown away.

As soon as I left high school I caught three planes of decreasing size, and flew to a giant cattle station in northern Queensland. Unlike many 18 year old city girls, all I wanted was to be on the back of a horse trailing a few thousand cattle with a vast empty horizon ahead of me. I love the raw beauty of the extensive grazing systems. They are wild, challenging and isolated. You find great value in the most basic essentials of life – a clear stream to fill your water bottle, a smile from the only person you see that day, a gum tree to offer shade on a week-long muster. Jillarooing confirmed for me that I wanted a life in agriculture.

My parents bought our farm at the start of the decade long Millennium Drought. Not the best time to buy a farm. So our introduction to farming was a steep learning curve. It was immediately apparent how interconnected individual components of a farming system are. When the rain doesn’t come, less vegetation grows, livestock are sold at reduced weights, crop yields are not achieved, less money in the farmer’s pocket means off-farm employment is sought, and shops close in rural towns. As someone who dreams of owning my own farm one day, the drought was the impetus for me to pursue a career in how to build resilience in vulnerable farming systems to the challenges we face now, and the challenges of the future.

I find the natural world and the rhythms of life completely captivating. I am passionate about making sure that this intricate and fragile web is not jeopardised by careless human action. As the world faces unprecedented obstacles, we need people facing them head on. Not only can young bright minds help come up with the solutions, but it is the younger generation and the following generations that will be most greatly impacted by the trajectory we find ourselves on.

One of the defining challenges of our time is how to feed a growing global population while reducing our environmental footprint. By no means an easy task. Striving for sustainable agricultural systems is perhaps a broad and audacious goal, yet the need to redefine the way we produce food and fibre is undeniable. Farmers are being asked to produce more with less right now, and we cannot tackle these expectations with 20th century thinking and technology. We need to continually seek new information, new ideas, a better understanding of the world and human interaction with it.

The faces of youth in agriculture remind us we need a long-term plan. Working in agriculture is a worthwhile and rewarding career, as those involved in its improvement are making a meaningful contribution to food security, the protection of natural resources and the vibrancy of rural communities. We need to encourage young people to look past the Great Dividing Range and explore what opportunities lie in regional and rural Australia. We need those creative and critical perspectives to disrupt the status quo and find innovative pathways to feed this world.

One way in which farmers are taking climate action is through the adoption of renewable energy. Farmers have long fed the world – and now they are helping power it as well. Renewable energy uses natural resources that can be constantly replenished, and provides a winning situation for those on the land and all living beings. It provides farmers with an additional source of income and a stable source of income, a means for reducing costs, increasing self-reliance and enabling a greener production system.

The importance of renewable energy is well understood by farmers and has been used in food production systems for centuries. Using the sun to dry crops and grain is one of the oldest applications of solar energy, windmills have drawn water from depth, while harnessing the power of flowing water with waterwheels was a game-changer for early civilizations to advance.

Right across the world, communities – both rural and urban – are recognising the opportunity created by clean energy. The flourishing renewable energy sector includes:

  • Solar energy
  • Wind energy
  • Bioenergy
  • Hydropower
  • Geothermal
  • Tidal and wave energy

Although there is an extensive history of renewable energies used on farms, they still mainly play only a localised and modest role in energy production. For large-scale implementation of renewable energies, countries need to devise strategies to improve availability and affordability of suitable technologies – developed for local contexts and holding opportunity for scaling-up.

The great prospects for renewable energy to be embraced by agriculture are out there, and as a farmer, I am truly excited to see the expansion of clean, green production systems.

To make the most of these opportunities for farmers to do good, we need more eaters to realise the power of what’s on their plate. It’s heartening meeting farmers like Anika and our volunteers who get it. Now it’s time to start a conversation with those who haven’t. Yet.

Anika Molesworth