WA farmer pays it forward

Esperance farmer pays it forward

Cropping
Esperance farmer Chris Reichstein (centre) with Mt Burdett productivity manager Joel Andrew (left) and operations manager Adam denEngelson.

Esperance farmer Chris Reichstein (centre) with Mt Burdett productivity manager Joel Andrew (left) and operations manager Adam denEngelson.

Aa

"When you're confronted with your own mortality you think really hard about what's left behind and what your legacy is."

Aa

FACING your own mortality is something which understandably frightens most people, but for Esperance farmer Chris Reichstein, it was the push he needed to follow through on a dream to give back to the community which had given him so much.

Mr Reichstein has been farming for more than 40 years, with his family having bought the land he still cultivates today as standing scrub in 1975.

The idea of giving back to the community was originally sewn back in the 1990s when Mr Reichstein was part of Monty House's Community Builders Initiative which saw him travel overseas to look at different ways of doing things.

Fast forward a few more years and he was sitting in a spot just east of Esperance, thinking to himself that there was great wealth in the farming community and that it would be great to pay it forward.

"Agriculture is a fantastic and very progressive industry - the increases in productivity, changes in farming systems, adoption of new ideas and new technology have meant that the Esperance area has become an extremely, dare I say it, profitable area," Mr Reichstein said.

"I'm probably not supposed to say that word in farming but I think we should celebrate the fact that this is a very good farming region and there is a large number of people who have done extremely well out of it.

"That idea sat there in my mind and after having a few health challenges it focused my thinking and made me realise I'm in a very fortunate situation to be able to establish something to give back to the community."

It was about five years ago that Mr Reichstein was diagnosed with stomach cancer and with no immediate successors to leave the farm to, he set about figuring out a way to leave it to the benefit of Esperance.

In 2020 he created the Mt Burdett Foundation, a charitable organisation that would use the profits from the farm to fund community projects and invest in regional people.

The foundation is broken up into three separate arms - the Esperance Community Foundation which is focused solely on Esperance, The Rural and Regional Advancement Foundation (RRAF) which will work on a State level and is about empowering people to have an impact on their communities, and the Mt Burdett Farming Trust.

"The Esperance Community Foundation will focus on the things that I thought were really important in the community - health, education, youth, arts and public amenities, along with human capacity building," Mr Reichstein said.

"Through investing in those areas I think we can make Esperance a more resilient and vibrant community that is an attractive place to live."

On top of research, the primary focus of the farm will remain on production in order to generate a profit which will go back to the Mt Burdett Foundation for distribution to local and regional communities.

On top of research, the primary focus of the farm will remain on production in order to generate a profit which will go back to the Mt Burdett Foundation for distribution to local and regional communities.

One of the key projects Mr Reichstein is interested in funding in Esperance is the establishment of a hospice.

The foundation won't be involved in running the hospice, or any other project for that matter, but he believes that if Mt Burdett could be an incubator and provide some seed funding, that would be a real value to the community.

"I'd also love to see a public arts trail that would go from the centre of Esperance out to somewhere like Twilight Bay," Mr Reichstein said.

"It's about giving people pride in their community and also about showing the natural beauty of the area.

"The average time visitors spend in Esperance is two and a half days days, so if we can keep people for half a day longer, it helps with tourism and economic development."

The RRAF element of Mt Burdett is specifically designed for people based in regional WA to help build their skills, confidence and networks in order to have a greater impact in their community.

RRAF committee chairwoman Erin Gorter said applications for individual and group grants were currently open.

"We are so keen to help build up those people we all have in our communities that we can see have so much to offer but just need a helping hand to realise their potential," Ms Gorter said.

"These opportunities are open to anyone living or working in regional WA and who are in the 'early-mid' stage of whatever their career happens to be - it is not restricted to farming, and not just for those with careers that are based on tertiary qualifications.

"Passion and vision for the local community is what is being looked for, no matter what the vocation - our communities rely on our people, and people is what RRAF is all about."

RRAF is also working alongside Leadership WA this year to offer four places on the Leadership WA Rising Leaders Program.

The Mt Burdett Farming Trust is the element responsible for the farm itself which going forward will have a two-pronged approach - production and research.

The farming system which Mr Reichstein has established is roughly 3000 hectares and is focused on cropping with a rotation of wheat, barley, canola, lupins, peas and legumes.

Over the years he has become determined that the farm is managed in a way that will secure its productivity into the future and is constantly looking to improve the farm's systems.

"I've always been passionate about agriculture and learning more about research which can benefit the area, so I thought rather than the farm being sold post-Chris, wouldn't it be great if it could be run by an organisation that could use it to accommodate researchers, undertake validation of innovation and become a centre of best practice for the benefit of agriculture in the district," Mr Reichstein said.

"We have all of the facilities here and the right people in place with Adam denEngelson as operations manager having been on the farm for eight years and Joel Andrew as productivity manager, having started in January.

"Joel's role will see him take the lead on driving increases in productivity and identifying research opportunities on the farm, so a portion of the farm will be dedicated to research - some of which will be our own and some of which will be other companies and organisations coming in."

On top of research, the primary focus of the farm will remain on production in order to generate a profit which will go back to the Mt Burdett Foundation for distribution to local and regional communities.

A Farm Advisory Committee has been established and will help to provide guidance around onfarm decisions in the future.

Mr Andrew was a precision ag consultant who ran his own business with a focus on soil constraints and nutrition, as well as technology in terms of variable rate maps and trying to match nutrition with production potential.

He is all about using data generated onfarm to make better decisions.

"A big benefit of what I was doing was using my own onfarm trails but then also getting other people to come in and run trials so we could figure out what the best practices were within a particular business or soil type," Mr Andrew said.

"I've been working with individual farmers, consultants, growers groups, universities and other research organisations like DPIRD and CSIRO for many years, so we're set up really well to be able to work with anyone and everyone to test different elements.

"That includes different systems, rotations, herbicides, pesticides, chemicals and nutrition to try and get a better understanding of what drives productivity and how we can tie all the information together to do a better job as farmers."

The idea is that the farm will conduct research which will ultimately increase productivity and in turn generate an income stream which will go back into the Mt Burdett Foundation to fund projects and people that will benefit both Esperance and wider regional WA.

"When you're confronted with your own mortality you think really hard about what's left behind and what your legacy is," Mr Reichstein said.

"Your legacy shouldn't be about ego but I suppose we all like to think that we've done something decent while we've had our time on this planet, and this is just about sharing some of my good fortune while I'm here and into the future."

  • Details: mtburdettfoundation.org.au

The story WA farmer pays it forward first appeared on Farm Weekly.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by