The former railway town of Wolseley on the SA-Vic border may be a quiet hamlet but its Agricultural Bureau is flourishing.
And if the outstanding crops in the area are anything to go by, its farmer members are at the cutting edge.
The Wolseley Ag Bureau – one of 60 branches across the state – recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.
Its inaugural meeting was held in April 1928 in WW Merrett’s billiard room with 27 farmers voting to start a branch.
Ted Ridgway, a member for more than 40 years, said HCM Pilgrim was elected the first president, a role he held for six years, while EW Sharrock was secretary for the first 16 years.
Several descendants of the founding members are still part of the group today, meeting about nine times a year.
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Ted says in the late 1960s, numbers dwindled to only four or five at each meeting but today they have 32 members.
“Farms have got larger so there are less farmers in the area but back in the day there may have been a quarter of the farmers that were members, now it is probably more like three-quarters,” Ted said.
“We are a great small community and rotate our office bearers every couple of years.”
Ted’s son Andrew, who is the current president, has been a member for close to a decade.
He said tradition played a part in his joining the Ag Bureau but he also recognised it was a progressive, supportive group of farmers.
“There are both large and small farmers all running really diverse businesses but we all get along well and learn from each other,” Andrew said.
“It is easy to get bogged down on the tractor and not see people for a while so it is a good way to keep in touch, too.”
The Bureau holds an annual crop walk and one of their suggestions has led to the Mackillop Farm Management Group running a cereal challenge, comparing the gross margins of wheat, barley and oats.
Andrew says with 12 members under 40 years of age, Wolseley Ag Bureau has a strong future.
“I will certainly do my bit to make sure it keeps going – it is a wonderful organisation,” he said.
Ag Bureau plays role in district’s progress
The early handwritten minutes of the Wolseley Ag Bureau give a fascinating insight into the fortunes of farming and the role of the Bureau.
Ted, who researched the branch’s history, says the initial focus was graingrowing.
“Then discussion turned to tractors versus horses because a horse cost 30 pounds to buy and a tractor would have been several hundred pounds,” he said.
“A Mr Grosser was the first man to have a tractor and he said he could do more with a tractor than horses and you didn’t have to stop to feed them.”
After the Depression members became interested in growing pigs, fowl and dairy cattle to make more money and in the 1950s during the wool boom the group had many sheep and wool speakers.
Ted also recalls one of the quotes from member Archie Gray, who spoke at the September 1959 meeting on farm mechanisation – ‘When man first began to supplement his diet of hunted game with cultivated crops, he became a farmer, and started the longest uninterrupted gamble in history”.