Ten Minutes with Sugar Farmer Luke Moloney

Ten Minutes with Sugar Farmer Luke Moloney | The Cultivator Spring 2019

Where do you live?
Woodford Island in the Clarence Valley in northern NSW.

What’s the name of the property you’re at?
I work on Yakaloo, owned by Alister and Helen McFarlane.

What is your role there?
I’m Yakaloo Farm Manager.

How would you describe yourself in five points?
Growing up in a small town just across the river from where I now work, Lawrence, was fantastic.

I guess I was an average student but absolutely loved going to school and still cop a bit of stick for not missing a day of high school in six years.

After school, we’d usually end up riding our bikes around the local cane farms, looking for the farmers to see what they were up to and hoping there was a job we could help them with, or just to ride on the tractor.

I’ve always been interested in growing things and loved helping my best mate’s dad – who had one of the best gardens in the area – and learning about all the vegetables he grew. The cane industry has always been a part of my life – my uncles work cane farms and my father owns a small cane farm, having worked in the local industry for 40 years.

What is your favourite aspect of farming and why?
Planting time is a very busy time of year but that’s also where it all starts – and you have to get it right, otherwise you can be behind the game before you even start, with the hope of that planting staying in the ground for the next six to eight years.

Who do you consider a role model and why?
My boss Alister has been through many changes in the industry over a lot of years but still has the drive to look to the future and set the industry up for the following generation.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from the previous farming generations?
Do not let weather or uncontrollable factors get you down because “the sun will come up tomorrow and we will work through this”.

What advice do you think you would give to someone young?
Do not let anyone tell you not to get into farming – sure, there are ups and downs but it’s a great way of life and if you’re willing to put in the hard work, it will pay off.

Personally, what do you think is the biggest problem in agriculture in your area?
The price and availability of large parcels of cane land makes it hard to live solely off the farm, with many people having off-farm jobs.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would you do or change?
I would definitely give more assistance to farmers – not just after natural disasters but to help future generations be able to afford to stay on the farm and keep the industry alive.

Do you think there’s a divide between agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists in your area?
A lot of people moving here from the cities do not understand the industry and what it provides for the local area.

What was your biggest challenge as a younger farmer taking over the reins of an enterprise?
It was probably the decision to pursue farming as a career, which I made after doing a few other things following school and then starting uni before working out what I really wanted to do.

In a perfect world (and unfortunately agriculture is perfectly imperfect), what would the future look like for your business?

A run of favourable seasons!

If you are facing an on-farm problem, do you openly seek support from others or manage it yourself?

It’s a bit of both – we fix what we can ourselves and are also pretty lucky to have a bunch of good neighbours who are always willing to help out and work together.

What is one thing everyday Australians would not know about sugarcane that you wish they did?
Apart from people always asking me if the cane is full of snakes (which it’s not), I’d like people to understand how good cane is as an agricultural industry – it’s a plant that absorbs carbon and buries it in the ground and it can be used for so many different things, besides just sugar.

Is there something in the sugar cane industry you are excited about?
The industry is always looking to do things better – including our new varieties of cane being developed for growers and mills branching out into new products such as bottled water.

Would you say you are willing to try new things on the farm or try to stick with what has worked before?
We are always trying new things and adjusting farming systems. Over the last off-season, we built our own fertiliser box, which was purpose-designed to fit in with our zonal tillage system.

If farming wasn’t an option, what would be your next dream job?
A chef – I love to cook and always enjoyed helping Mum in the kitchen, with my favourite dish being my sticky date pudding in a camp oven.