Friday, 17 June 2011

Eighteen months after graduating with double degrees of Bachelors of Science in Agriculture and Economics from The University of Western Australia (UWA), 26 year old Kununurra born Christian Bloecker now manages his family’s 950 hectare farm in the Ord River Irrigation Area.

“I’m now getting the farm to the point where it’s running as well as it was with my parents at the helm and I’m understanding why they made their decisions, before I make major changes based on the science and economics I learned at UWA,” Mr Bloecker said.

His parents, Wilhelm and Gabi, after migrating from Germany, moved to Kununurra in 1982.

“I’m always trying to relate the theory to the practice in every decision I make, but it’s too early to be making changes to a formula that obviously worked for my parents for almost 30 years.

“In the Ord we must balance the need for large-scale major crops, such as cotton, rice, sugar cane and sandalwood and underpin this growth with a diversity of niche crops to ensure long term sustainability and profitability,” he said.

The 950 hectare mixed horticulture and broadacre cropping enterprise, trading as ‘Bothkamp Australia Farm’, grows rockmelons, honeydews, butternut pumpkins, chia, chickpea, borlotti beans, sorghum and cotton.

The biggest current agronomic challenge for the Bloeckers is controlling aphids in their cucurbits (rockmelons, honeydews, pumpkins).

“We had major difficulties last year, especially in those paddocks immediately downwind of sandalwood plantations, so we’ve tried to locate this year’s crops as far away as possible, although this is difficult as we’re surrounded by sandalwood plantations,” he said.

Timing of sowing is also an issue, particularly this year, due to the record recent wet season, with over 1.5 metres of rain, causing seeding to be delayed by up to six weeks and increasing the risk of rain damage from the first thunderstorms during harvest in October/November.

“I’m hoping for a normal dry season, with warm, sunny days, cool nights and no rain,” he said.

Mr Bloecker credits his UWA Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science studies with his ability to adopt a critical, discerning  attitude to important on-farm decisions.

“One of the best aspects of studying agricultural science and economics at UWA was being constantly reminded to think critically about information and not take everything at face value.

“I probably don’t realise how much of my two degrees I’m actually using now, but it’ll be a hindsight thing when I look back in a few years and understand why I made a certain decision.

“I use both daily, with the agricultural science degree when out in the fields checking crops and the economics degree when in the office crunching numbers and looking after the business.”

To underpin the viability and success of the valley, Mr Bloecker is convinced more land needs to be released than the current 7700 ha proposed for the Ord Stage 2 Expansion Area.

“Currently, there’s not enough land available for staple crops, such as sugar cane, cotton or rice, to have the economies of scale to justify building a sugar mill, cotton gin or rice mill.

“Depending on the crop choice, sugar, rice and cotton need 8-14,000 ha for themselves alone, to consider building the processing and value adding facilities required.

“A major hurdle for the Ord Valley could arise if the Government doesn’t continue to release land, as there’d be too much land for niche crops, but insufficient for a major crop. Effectively, the Government would then be planning for the future failure of the Valley.

“The Government must set suitable cornerstones for future expansion and provide the main infrastructure, so that it makes sense for private industry to take up the challenge and develop the land for food production. It will be a good test case for private/public partnerships,” Mr Bloecker said.

According to UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, the Ord River Irrigation Area, especially now Stage Two is underway, will generate greater demand for quality agricultural science and economics graduates, such as Mr Bloecker.

“Christian is an excellent example of a recent trend whereby young and university educated people are entering agriculture and farm management.

“With such bright young people of Christian’s calibre, who are committed to the area and willing to bring new ideas and skills to the region, the future of the Ord Valley is assured, subject to appropriate levels of Government strategic decisions and support,” Professor Siddique said.

Media references

Brendon Cant & Associates (+61 8) 9384 1122

Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique , Director, UWA Institute of Agriculture (+61) 0411 155 396


Alumni — Business and Industry
UWA Institute of Agriculture