What it takes to win the NSW Farmer of the Year Awards

Published: August 2019 

While the drought continues to make conditions tough, it’s still important to celebrate Australian farmers who excel. Find out about the most recent winners and details of how to enter.

The NSW Farmer of the Year Awards spotlight the state’s most inspirational primary producers. 
A joint initiative launched by NSW Farmers and the NSW Department of Primary Industries in 2004, the annual awards have recognised a diverse range of farming enterprises, from barramundi to beef to biserrula. 

What all of them have in common is outstanding achievement in productivity, management skills, innovation and commitment to health and safety – the farming attributes the judges are looking for when they determine each year’s winner. 

The rewards are substantial – the NSW Farmer of the Year and the NSW Young Farmer of the Year each win a $4,000 cash prize, with the runner-up in both categories receiving $2,000. The winners are announced at a ceremony at NSW Parliament House in December. 

With nominations for the 2019 awards recently launched at the NSW Farmers Annual Conference, we profile the most recent NSW Farmer of the Year winners to find out what it takes to take home the top prize. ENTER HERE

The 2018 NSW Farmer of the Year Awards winner 

Glen and Julie Andreazza Willbriggie, Riverina, Commodity Grain. 

Glen and Julie Andreazza Willbriggie on their property in the Riverina. Photography by Matt Beaver. 

Winning formula
Last year’s judges praised the couple for their ability to adapt and manage the challenges of irrigated agriculture, along with looking after the environment and their focus on education, communication and succession planning.

The details
When The Farmer met the Andreazzas at their property south of Griffith after their NSW Farmer of the Year win last December, the producers, who usually grow rice in summer and a wheat crop in winter, had made the business decision to replace their rice crop with corn. Land-forming work carried out on their farm – which allows them to quickly change the crops in the fields, as well as saving water, time and fuel – helped them make the difficult decision. Further investments in water and precision agriculture allows the farm to thrive in all conditions. “This farm is set up to produce anything,” Glen told us. “I like the style of farming we have. It’s opportunistic. We can grow what we want on the spur of the moment.”  
The 2017 NSW Farmer of the Year Awards winner
Mike and Velia O’Hare, Beckom, Riverina, Commodity Canola, wheat and lamb

Mike and Velia O’Hare on their property in the Riverina with their dog Pippa. Photography by Matt Beaver. 
Winning formula
Judges noted the O’Hares and their family have been at the forefront of advancements in agriculture for more than 50 years, trialling new wheat cultivars, and more recently pioneering the little-known Mediterranean pasture legume biserrula with great success. 

READ HERE: Farmer of the Year: advancing in agriculture   

The details
At the NSW Farmer of the Year ceremony, Mike said the introduction of hard-seeded pasture legumes, which are hardy in dry times, was right up there with some of the biggest innovations in his time of farming, including the arrival of semi-dwarf wheats, canola and direct drilling. The O’Hares planted their first biserrula in 2009 after their subterranean clover fields were ravaged by the Millennium drought and they haven’t looked back. The legume pastures, which include bladder clover and gland clover, are regenerating and offer a multitude of benefits and cost savings. “Farming is not something you can just look at and think, oh well we can do that for the next 10 years,” Mike told The Farmer last year. “It’s constantly evolving.”
Tough lessons learnt: building resilience to drought 
“If you don’t think drought is part of farming, you’re in the wrong game.”

The 2016 NSW Farmer of the Year Awards winner

Nick Arena, Bobs Farm, Hunter, Commodity Barramundi and hydroponic vegetables

Barramundi and hydroponic vegetables farmer Nick Arena at Bobs Farm in the Hunter. Source: Fairfax.  

Winning formula
The 2016 awards judges described Nick as a leader within the land-based fish production industry, with outstanding farm management skills and innovative business monitoring systems.

The details
Nick’s business produces 1,000kg of barramundi a week at his facility near Port Stephens, selling the tropical fish to markets and restaurateurs. He additionally uses hydroponics to produce leafy greens and herbs, which join the barramundi in supplying his onsite restaurant Cookabarra, as well as local stores. The business model is sustainable and environmentally responsible, producing a year-round supply of fish and vegetables through compact and controlled production areas designed to use less water than conventional methods. The system also uses the wastewater from the fish production as a resource to produce the second crop of fresh vegetables.

RELATED: Oyster growers thrive despite environmental crisis
The 2015 NSW Farmer of the Year Award winner

Ed Fagan, Cowra, Central Tablelands, Commodity Livestock, broadacre farming and intensive horticulture

Farmer Ed Fagan with baby spinach on Mulyan Farm near Cowra, New South Wales. Source: Andrew Taylor Photography for Newspix. 
Winning formula
Ed runs a complicated, multi-layered operation, and the judges were “incredibly impressed” with his work to protect natural resources by improving soil nutrition, weed control and innovative research and development.

The details
Stretching the concept of ‘mixed farming’ to its limit, Ed’s 1,602-hectare farm produces cattle and sheep, and grows wheat, canola, maize, popcorn and oats as well as a diverse range of horticultural crops, including beetroot, asparagus and the hard-to-grow baby leaf spinach. Ed points out his farm can produce a complete meal, including a choice of beef or lamb – and not many farmers can say that. In order to maintain the variety and level of production required for his operation, he invests in a wide range of research projects and trial sites together with industry partners.

Organic broccoli farmers innovating with powders

The 2014 NSW Farmer of the Year Award winner
Derek and Kirrily Blomfield, Quirindi, North West, Commodity Beef

Derek and Kirrily Blomfield on their beef farm in Quirindi. Source: Fairfax. 
Winning formula
Judges praised the couple for tapping into the latest science and connecting with their customers, as well as committing to improving and regenerating soils, pastures and biodiversity while optimising beef production and profitability.

The details
The name for Derek and Kirrily’s business, The Conscious Farmer, reflects how they farm – they employ holistic management grazing principles to regenerate the soils and promote biodiversity. They sell their grass-fed beef direct from their farm, value-adding their product to take it out of market fluctuations and create profit. They take pride in their care for their cattle and share their regenerative farming and grazing practices with the agricultural community.
Reaping the rewards of biodynamic beef farming 
Secret to success: 160 years of farming with Booroomooka Beef 
Clever beef farmers create innovative market for bone broth 
The 2013 NSW Farmer of the Year Award winner

Matthew and Cherie Coddington, Dubbo, Central West, Commodity Sheep

Matthew and Cherie Coddington at their property, Roseville Park Merino Stud in Dubbo. Source: Supplied by Matthew Coddington. 

Winning format
Describing the couple as leaders in their industry, the judges praised the Merino breeders for their commitment to profitability, sustainability, research, industry involvement, marketing and family succession – and their meticulous approach to breeding.

The details
Since taking over Roseville Park Merino Stud from Matthew’s parents in 2005, the couple have put a lot of study into the genetics of sheep, and at the time of winning their award, they were considered one of Australia’s foremost Merino producers. When The Farmer visited the Coddingtons at their stud in 2018, we discovered they were still breaking new ground with innovations to aid growth, including exporting their genetics to countries like Argentina, Uruguay, the Philippines, India and Romania. They have also shifted shearing operations from annually to twice a year, which, complemented by new pasture management, have been offering significant gains. 
The NSW Farmer of the Year Awards winner honour roll 
2012 Peter & Alison Campbell / Henty – cropping & sheep 

    Note: from 2012 to 2018 young farmers were invited to enter the main NSW Farmer of the Year awards

2011 Norm Smith / Wellington – grazing NSW Young Farmer of the Year Marc Greening / Holbrook – beef genetics 

2010 Ridley Bell / North Coast – blueberries NSW Young Farmer of the Year Andrew Carroll / Yamba – mulloway

2009 Michael O’Brien / Walgett – mixed cropping & livestock NSW Young Farmer of the Year Steve & Amity Chase / Trangie – cattle

2008 Nigel Kerin / Yeoval – cropping & sheep NSW Young Farmer of the Year Tally Matthews / Windsor – turf & vegetables

2007 Rob Sinnamon / Baryulgil – mixed cattle & cropping NSW Young Farmer of the Year Jointly awarded to Ben & Liarne Mannix / Bourke – sheep, goats and cattle; and Stuart Blake / Walcha – artificial breeding services & mixed farming

2006 Gary Johnston / Forbes – lucerne, irrigation & livestock NSW Young Farmer of the Year Greg Miller / Windsor – turf

2005 Scott McCalman / Warren – cropping, no tillage NSW Young Farmer of the Year Graham Finlayson / Brewarrina – native vegetation restoration, livestock & farmstay

2004 Garry Hannigan / Broken Hill – native vegetation, drought strategies, goats & livestock NSW Young Farmer of the Year Andrew Watson / Boggabri – cotton
How to enter the NSW Farmer of the Year Awards 

Nominations are now open for the 2019 NSW Farmer of the Year and NSW Young Farmer of the Year (ages 18-35) awards. You can nominate yourself or any deserving NSW farmer, including your family, neighbour, client or colleague. ENTER HERE
The awards are coordinated by NSW DPI and NSW Farmers and supported by SafeWork NSW and The Land. Farmers can win prizes of $4,000 for the winner in each category, and $2,000 for the runner-up in each category. 

The closing date is 23 September 2019, with the winners announced in December.

Enjoy this story? Want more in-depth news on farming in NSW? Members of NSW Farmers receive a free glossy magazine called The Farmer, direct to their letterbox, with exclusive news, views and deep analysis. Plus of course, you get all the benefits of being a member of the largest state farming organisation. Join here