|Surveys will land in farmer's mailboxes across the Wimmera this week as part of Australia's longest running research project of its type.
Professor Allan Curtis and Dr Emily Mendham from Charles Sturt University are leading the rural landholder survey for Wimmera Catchment Management Authority.
The University sent the surveys to a random selection of landholders of small and large properties late last week.
The confidential survey, Social Drivers of NRM in the Wimmera, asks questions about long-term property plans and farmers' views about the wetlands, rivers and streams on their land.
Photo above - The landholder survey aims to capture current and future trends in farming. Results will help direct funding for work on properties such as the Mt Dryden land on the edge of the Grampians owned by Wayne Burton and Caterina Becchio, pictured here with their children Hannah (right) and Alicia. Photo contributed.
It also asks for views on native vegetation clearing, carbon farming, Aboriginal heritage and funding for on-farm environmental projects. Other topics include types of farming, farming practices, farmers' preferred sources of information, succession planning and why your farm is so important to you.
It is the fourth survey in a long-term project to help guide bids for government investment into land and water management. Professor Allan Curtis has also led the previous Wimmera surveys in 2002, 2007 and 2011.
Wimmera CMA board chairperson Karen Douglas said survey results gave the CMA a comprehensive understanding of past and future trends in land management and the requirements and needs of landholders.
"The CMA pores over these results because they allow us to understand the issues facing farmers, and we can then strongly argue a case for projects and funding that will have the most impact and relevance for our region in the long-term.
"This knowledge from the grass roots also helps us strengthen the partnerships we have with the farming sector, which is really important when we are working on environmental projects on private land."
Lah farmer encourages others to participate
Lah farmer David Drage, who has been a Wimmera CMA board member since 2013, filled out the 2011 survey because he was keen to contribute his farming knowledge and experience.
David's family have farmed in the Lah district near Warracknabeal for more than 100 years. He said wanted to support the survey because he felt his story could help the CMA identify trends in the environment of the area he had lived his whole life.
"When I read through the survey I could see that a lot of powerful data would come out of the results and I wanted to support the CMA in trying to capture current and future trends. I saw many benefits of contributing my story to the bigger picture."
David said a lot had changed in the Wimmera since the 2011 survey, and it was important for the CMA to identify how farmers were adapting to those changes.
"When I filled out the last survey we'd just been through summer floods, after the longest drought on record. Our soil profile had been completely re-wetted and all our rivers, wetlands and lakes were full.
"The farming sector in the Wimmera has been through so much since the previous survey. When I filled it out there was a high degree of confidence because of our wet summer. I thought we were back to some seasons of high rainfall, but no, it hasn't been like that. We've just been through two extremely dry years, and in three out of the four past growing seasons we've had decile 1 growing season rainfall. This has certainly impacted on the decisions we are making."
David said since the 2011 survey they hadn't made significant changes to the way they physically worked their mixed farming enterprise, where they continue to use no-till techniques with the occasional strategic cultivation when required. But he said the way they managed risk had really come to the fore.
"We've started using things like multi-peril crop insurance to manage climate variability. Five years ago I wouldn't have even considered taking out this kind of insurance."
David said although some of the questions were of a more personal nature, he didn't hesitate to answer them because it was confidential. Participant's names will never be placed on the survey or used in any reports, and nobody outside Charles Sturt University has access to survey data.
"I could see that the reason for these more personal questions was because it's important to know what people's intent for their land is over the coming years, so the systems can be put in place to adapt to these changes.
"The survey is seeking an understanding of what the area will be like in five, 10 and 15 years so Wimmera CMA can be more proactive in seeking suitable funding for the region."
David said one of the positives he gained was from the self-analysis the survey prompted in him.
"The questions in the survey make you really think about what you are doing on your farm, and I found myself starting to ask why I was doing things that way - was it because it was the way they were always done and could I or should I be doing things differently?"
Professor Curtis and Dr Mendham assured survey participants of complete confidence. If you receive a survey and have questions, you can phone Dr Mendham on 1800 901 374.
The survey is funded through the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.