Five minutes with a farmer group: Birchip Cropping Group

| Posted Mar 04,2021

The Soil CRC’s Communications Manager caught up with Fiona Best, CEO of Birchip Cropping Group, for a five-minute chat.  

Tell us a bit about Birchip Cropping Group (BCG)

BCG is a not-for-profit farming systems group that began 30 years ago when a group of local Birchip farmers felt isolated from the agricultural research effort. So, the farmers started to do some research themselves.

Today we’re one of the largest farming systems group in Australia, with 400 members and 20 staff undertaking a whole range of agricultural research and extension projects. Our work also has a significant community component. Not only are we supporting the future viability and sustainability of farmers but also of the community in general.

BCG’s tagline is “shared solutions” and that is what we are all about. We look for collaborations, across sectors, to engage with others to find solutions to some of the challenges farmers in our region are facing. We have a mission to improve the viability of farmers through applied agronomic research and extension.

We believe the whole region has benefitted from the research that BCG has been involved in. The region has seen a real increase in adoption of new technologies and practices since the inception of BCG. Farmers are more engaged with research. We have become an important, independent source of information for farmers.

What area and type of farming do you cover? 

Essentially BCG has a footprint across the Wimmera, Mallee and into North Central Victoria. It’s a large region, with mixed farming enterprises but predominantly broad acre cropping. Across the whole region, farms are operating in the medium and low rainfall zones.

What type of soil do you have? 

The soils obviously vary across the region. In the Wimmera we have grey cracking clays, the Mallee has some sandy soils, in the North Central region we have sodic soils, and in Birchip we have calcareous soils with boron.

Why is soil important to your members? 

Soil is the foundation for production for our whole farming system. They need to be protected and enhanced. We want our farmers to be sustainable and productive into the future and soil is fundamental to this.

Maintaining soil cover, overcoming subsoil constraints such as sodicity, salinity and boron and ensuring productive soil that has good structure and is well nourished are big issues for our members.

Why did BCG become a participant in the Soil CRC? 

BCG is all about finding “shared solutions” and being a partner in the Soil CRC is part of that. It is a great opportunity to work collaboratively with universities and other research partners that have the skills and capability in soils that adds value to our farmers. It complements our own research work.

The Soil CRC also offers another opportunity to fund our research, and to have input into that research. BCG can be a conduit between researchers and farmers, and we can be a voice for the farmers in the Soil CRC. We are big advocates for involving farmers from the beginning of a research project.

What is exciting about working with the Soil CRC? 

Making key connections with people in industry who have shared goals and visions is valuable. By working together, collaborating, and sharing resources, we can achieve so much more.

Through the Soil CRC we have had the opportunity to be involved in different research projects such as the Smelling soil project that we wouldn’t otherwise have had the resources to do.

We are involved in a range of projects, providing soil sampling, field trials, practical ground truthing and farmer engagement to the Soil CRC.

Projects that BCG are involved in

Rewarding soil stewardship (1.1.004)

Why soil management practices are adopted (1.2.002)

Smelling soil (2.1.004)

Improved management of herbicide residues in soil (4.2.004)

Addressing complex soil constraints (4.2.002)

Improving decision support systems (4.3.002)

Building Capacity Project (6.1.001)