Meet a wheat farmer: Dave from Freeling-Barossa.
A note from Matthew: I wanted to highlight some of the farmers and growers in my network to understand where our food, especially baking and bread-making ingredients, come from. I trust we can all appreciate the farmers and families involved. I hope you enjoy the interview and find it insightful. Farmers, we thank you!
David and his family joined one of my classes to better understand and show the children how (some of) the produce they grow (wheat) becomes food (bread).
Image (supplied): harvesting barley grains near Sheaoak Log.
Your name/family name: Dave Heinjus
Farm Name (if applicable): Pareta Farms
Where are you located (region)? Freeling on the western edge of the Barossa Valley.
What characterises your region (e.g. soil/s, climate, rainfall, other)?
Our farm consists of red brown earth and bay of Biscay soils. Our annual rainfall is approximately 450mm. Our growing season rainfall (April to October) is 360mm. Our rainfall is generally very reliable with an opening break close to ANZAC day each year.
What are the primary crop/s you grow? Our grain crops consist of bread wheat, barley, canola, lentils and faba beans.
What size is your cropping area? circa 800ha
What else do you grow? Hay
How much does your land produce? From a poor harvest to average harvest to abundant harvest?
Our land generally produces 5t/ha of wheat and barley, 2 t/ha (46%oil) canola and 2.5 t/ha of lentils and faba beans. Wheat yields will vary between 3.0t/ha and 6.5 t/ha.
What are the primary factors (e.g. weather) influencing a “good” harvest vs a “poor” harvest?
Rainfall is a big driver of yield. However, frost and hot spring weather can also significantly reduce crops yields. Our farming system involves robust crop rotations and retention of 100% of our stubbles and direct drilling crops. This ensures root diseases are naturally managed, nitrogen use is minimal and soil water is maximized.
Of the factors which can be humanly controlled, what influences the profitability of your particular farming?
Our focus is on timely management of all farm operations. This means our crops are sown on time, weeds managed while they are small and nutrition optimised. This is all within our control and maximises the probability of success.
How do you sell your produce? (Direct to consumer? Commodity? Combination?)
Our grain is sold to either end users or traders. This last harvest we delivered wheat directly onto a ship at Port Adelaide. We then tracked this ship to Singapore where the wheat was used for milling flour. Most of our grain is exported to Asia.
Do you eat your own produce? Or buy it when processed?
We mill our own wheat into flour and use it to make our own sourdough bread. There is something really cool about milling your own wheat. It just seems really fresh.
Through trial and error, we have created a blend of wholemeal and bakers flour that we really like (20:80).
Why farming? What is your farming story/family background (if applicable)?
We are passionate farmers who love growing grain. Our family came to SA in 1846 and have been farmers since. Personally, we have been managing our farm since 1988.
How much work does operating your farm involve?
We employ a full-time farm manager and casuals during seeding and harvest.
What’s a brief overview of the months for your crops? (e.g. when are you sowing, harvesting, etc.)
April – May planting (seeding) the crops.
May – October is weed, nutrition and disease management.
Harvest generally starts in November and finishes in December.
Has farming changed over your years? (e.g. technology, machinery)
When I was younger, there was a greater reliance on tillage to manage weeds and our tractors had no cabs. Today, the tractors are all climate controlled, very technical and guided by satellites.
Image (supplied): the 'seeder' .
Do you farm conventional or organic/biodynamic or other? Why have you chosen that option?
We adopt sustainable agriculture practices. This optimizes crop yields and balances the nutritional and disease management needs of the crop. It is a more profitable option.
We have undertaken a full economic analysis of converting to organics, but the investment in specialist machinery to control weeds meant this farming system was not profitable. Organic systems have a cost premium and a price premium and lower crop yields. This added risk meant it was not a viable option for our business.
Is there something you would like to grow but conditions/markets/consumers prevents or makes it not viable?
We would love to build a business model that processed all our grain into food products for consumers and the food service industry.
What do you wish consumers/bakers/cooks/non-farming people knew about your product? What frustrates you that people don’t know or appreciate about the process of growing food?
I wish provenance and sustainable farm practices were valued by consumers. While many say they will support local farmers, many just go for the lowest price without considering the farming system or how and where the crop is grown.
How can consumers better support or connect with you specifically (e.g. social media) or farmers generally?
If we thought we could create a viable business, we would welcome an opportunity to deal directly with consumers and produce a variety of food products where the consumer knew exactly where and how the grain was grown.
Thanks David and family!