The Eyre Peninsula town of Cleve has shown resilience and innovation – a couple of reasons why it is one of five finalists in the inaugural SA Agricultural Town of the Year Awards.
SA Agricultural Town of the Year finalist: Cleve
As drought tightened its grip on farmers living around the small town of Cleve last year the weather also sent a blast of high winds to Eyre Peninsula to further test their resilience.
“It’s our third year of drought,” Cleve drought project officer and Darke Peak farmer Angela Harris says.
“Last year the winds arrived: as soon as we started seeding they kept coming. Sometimes the crop would just be poking its head out of the ground and the wind would come and cut it off. Around Arno Bay there was so much drift it went into neighbours paddocks, onto roads.
“The roads were so bad in some areas they couldn’t access them.”
It has been tough on the mainly grain and sheep-growing region as locals deal with the economic and mental health impacts of dwindling yields, but this tight-knit community is working together to tackle its challenges head on.
When Angela Harris started her role as the town’s new drought project officer, she was struck by the sheer grit of this farming community.
“I’ve visited more than 90 farmers in the region and I’ve been surprised by how optimistic some of them are, how proactive, how open they are about their mental health,” she says.
There are clever on-farm projects happening to tackle the drought including water harvesting and new seeding techniques, widespread mental health awareness programs along with successful agriculture machinery and transport businesses still growing in Cleve.
“Farming practices have changed so much: the way we put seed into the ground, not touching the soil so much, we are putting vegetation back and that’s having a huge impact,” Angela says.
A series of drought recovery workshops have been well attended and an army of volunteers works hard to lift the town’s spirits.
Angela is a classic example: she crop-farms and runs sheep with her husband, is the drought project officer and also volunteers for the Cleve and Districts Mental Health and Wellbeing Group.
The group started a Breakthrough Mental Health football round and ran a creative wellbeing project at the Cleve Field Days last year.
Families took pictures with motivational messages for their parents – who arrived at the field day to be surprised by photographs displayed of their kids at favourite spots or on motorbikes, with messages like “you are my hero”.
And despite the drought, Cleve still manages to run Eyre Peninsula’s largest biennial field day which attracted some 18,000 people over three days last year.
Not bad for a town of 1171 people.
The Eyre Peninsula Field Days are testimony to how this town punches above its weight, a huge undertaking for a volunteer board and president Geoff Bammann who has been involved since 1973.
Geoff is a grain farmer too – one of the earliest adopters of no till and stubble retention to guard against soil erosion – and he says the field day is about showing the latest in farming technology.
South Australia’s new farm biosecurity and animal health management scheme, One Biosecurity, was launched at the last event with Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone saying the program would enhance SA’s reputation as a leader in biosecurity.
The days showcased soil moisture sensors, the latest in grain storage equipment – while the Bascombe Auto Ag site featured the only precision machine that will spread granulated product, as well as gypsum and lime.
Geoff says the event drew farmers from across the nation.
“I know of eight or nine farmers being here from Esperance in WA which is pretty amazing,” he says.
There is strong pride in this town, demonstrated by mayor Phil Cameron as he shows off its assets and volunteer projects.
He stops at a bartering table in the main street filled with a range of pumpkins, parsley, eggs, books and geranium cuttings – a spot for locals to share garden overflow with their neighbours.
There is a new men’s shed opening on the Cleve agriculture showgrounds, a well-loved golf club and, as he passes Grant Fennell’s place, Phil describes how his successful Fuzzell’s Fishing Adventures running out of nearby Arno Bay has hosted TV fishing shows and headline footy teams.
The town is particularly proud of its Cleve Area School with its well-known 350ha Sims Farm that operates as a commercial enterprise – a drawcard for students across the state wanting to specialise in agriculture studies.
Local farmer Gordon Sims donated the Sims Farm land in the 1960s and it is now a self-supporting commercial operation with backing from local businesses and a board of volunteer committee members.
Sims Farm focuses on cropping to reflect the region’s business, in wheat, barley, oats and lupins, cutting hay and also managing a self-replacing flock of about 500 merino sheep.
“In 2018 it was the winner of a best practice award in its learning and linking with the community and it’s also one of only two schools in the AgriFutures scheme to introduce agriculture enterprise education into schools,” Agriculture coordinator Alexs Suljagic says.
“We have a 100 per cent employment rate after the course.”
Earlier this year the school launched its AgriFutures program for Year 8 and Year 9 students to develop entrepreneurial learning skills in their ag studies.
Cleve is one of only seven schools nationally accepted in the second year of the program run by startup.business in partnership with AgriFutures Australia.
The program sees students develop business pitches with solutions to problems within the agricultural sector or their local community.
Startup.business education and program director Liz Jackson says the school’s emphasis on working with experts within the local community contributed to its successful application for the program.
The school is so well regarded that earlier this year the state’s agricultural teachers held their biennial conference at Cleve, including a visit to Sims Farm.
Further innovation can be found at Mount Rough where fourth and fifth generation farmers Mark and Andrea Hannemann, along with their son Matt, built a water harvesting scheme to deal with drought on their 2000ha property.
A dam and large pieces of black plastic act like a huge roof and water tank at the highest part of the farm and the reservoir gravity feeds the farm’s sheep troughs and the house 4.5km away, saving on carting.
“We previously had 35 earth dams: this cost about $80,000 to $100,000 and I reckon it would have paid for itself in the first five years,” Mark says.
They are now Climate Change Champions giving presentations about their farm project at forums on Eyre Peninsula and promoting awareness through the www.climatekelpie.com.au website.
Mark has been the Cleve Football Club president for the past eight years, and he tells how on top of the drought, a freak storm ripped the top storey from the town sporting club a few years ago.
He says the community pulled together fundraising and grants to now see work well underway to rebuild – again reflecting the town’s resilience.
And there is continued success among the three major employers in town with Pringles Crouch and Ramsey Bros two of the largest agriculture machinery dealers in the state.
Cleve born and raised Rodney Quinn started his business with one truck for transport runs to Adelaide before landing a contract to cart stobie poles when power was brought to the Eyre Peninsula.
He moved onto transporting sheep and Quinn Transport now has 35 trucks including semi-trailers, B-Double road trains and AB-Triples, more than 50 staff plus a yard in Port Lincoln and a depot in Adelaide at Gillman.
The company moves wheat, wool, fertiliser and stock, getting grain to ports for export.
“We are in an agricultural area and if you can’t move the product in an efficient and cost effective way the region will go down,” Rodney says.
Rodney is also helping the Motor Trade Association find permanent premises for new agriculture automotive training in the town.
The courses started a few years ago in Cleve when the community saw an opportunity to draw trainees and expertise to the town when automotive courses ended in Port Lincoln.
“I give them old parts and engines so they can pull them down and put them back together,” Rodney says.
Cleve farmer and Champion’s Academy program director Gemma Leonard thinks part of the region’s strength is its ability to pull together in times of adversity.
She works with sporting clubs to help nurture positive leadership skills among volunteers.
“I think volunteers are the heart and soul of the community,” she says.
The Agricultural Town of the Year is a State Government initiative designed to highlight South Australian towns that support and promote primary industries and all that they bring to rural communities.
The Government received 43 nominations, with an independent judging panel whittling that list down to five finalists – Cleve, Kapunda, Langhorne Creek, Millicent and Renmark.
Each of the five finalist towns will be profiled in SALIFE digital over the coming weeks.
The winner, also selected by the independent panel, will be announced at the South Australian Regional Showcase celebration event on October 11.
This story is sponsored by Primary Industries and Regions SA.