Progressive past supports farm future

Progressive past supports farm future

Life & Style

THE beginning of a long farming history began in an unconventional way for the Davey family on the Yorke Peninsula, with the baton being passed to a young woman who would help safeguard the family farm for generations to come.


THE beginning of a long farming history began in an unconventional way for the Davey family on the Yorke Peninsula, with the baton being passed to a young woman who would help safeguard the family farm for generations to come.

The Daveys first arrived at Pine Point and farmed in the area for a couple of generations, but it was actually John Davey's mother Phyllis Davey (nee Phelps) who took over her family farm and merged the two families together, to begin the long Davey story in Clinton Centre.

It was in 1887 that John's great-great- grandfather John Phelps began farming in the district on 188 hectares.

His son Phillip was next in line to take over the farm, before Phillip's son Keith, in the years later, spearheaded the farm forward and bought more land in the Clinton Centre area.

He farmed with his brother Clarence and together, a transport business was also formed.

But the brothers went their separate ways and Clarence and his sons Geoff and Bob took over the transport business and Keith continued to farm.

Keith and wife Melva had one child, Phyllis.

As the only child with no brothers, Phyllis was asked to return to the family farm with her husband, Sydney Arthur Davey, in the late 1950s.

Sydney (John's father) was already sharefarming at Curramulka when he married Phyllis in 1956.

"He had a great first year (1958) on the sharefarm and bought a tractor and refrigerator and a dairy at Mount Compass," John said.

"About a year later, dad wanted to expand the dairy and buy more land."

But Phyllis' father Keith asked them to return home to expand the family farm at Clinton Centre.

"Thank goodness my grandfather had a better idea than to expand the dairy," John said.

"This is how the Davey name came to farm in Clinton Centre."

By that stage, Keith had almost 400ha of land and the families lived together while John's parents built another house at Port Clinton.

In 1967, land was bought at Brinkworth and in 1984, John purchased land at Maitland.

By about 1986, John and his wife Deborah took over a portion of the farm.

The Daveys now crop about 1600ha, after getting out of sheep and dairy in the 1990s.

"Dad was an outstanding worker and gave us a lot to work with," John said.

"He worked very hard to make a dollar - any opportunity to expand the farm he took."

Top secret history

After having a tantrum while doing his maths homework, an eight-year-old John Davey was told something by his mother Phyllis, that he could never unhear.

It turns out Phyllis was a bit of a trailblazer for her time and while John was complaining, she told him that homework was not that difficult to finish because she used to plot rocket courses as a job in the 1950s.

"I never forgot what she said that night," he said.

Not only was Phyllis at the helm of the family farm, she was poached from Kadina Memorial School after making Dux, to work for the RAAF Woomera Range Complex - a major Australian military and civil aerospace facility and operation.

"It was mum's first job and she did it for about three years, but was sworn to secrecy for more than 40 years," John said.

"Mum was very intelligent and used a slide rule to do equations, in the days before calculators."

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New direction

About three years ago, brothers Matthew and James took over as directors of the farm and father John, took a step back to let the boys get a handle on the entire business.

A succession plan began about eight years ago and the brothers have the respective roles to ensure the business operates productively.

Matthew returned home to the farm in 2006 after John needed some extra help and his mother fell ill.

"I always wanted to return home to the farm, but I also wanted to see what else there was that I liked," Matthew said.

He tried his hand at automotive engineering and also marketing, but did not enjoy the courses and decided to commit to the family farm.

Matthew said drought had become somewhat of a family legacy, with him and his father both returning to the farm for their first year during a drought.

"Maybe that is why we have always been focussed on drought proofing the farm," Matthew said.

Matthew remembers working in an open cab tractor and his wife Belinda is well and truly paying for the hearing loss as a result of it," he said.

Matthew's interest in technology also grew in the early days on-farm.

In his first year, he helped to mount a $26,000 yield monitor to a 1991 header, and began collecting data.

"We were learning as we went, understanding mechanics and hydraulics," Matthew said.

Matthew's main role is also keeping up with the paperwork, organising grain sales and chemicals.

"Technology has allowed us to be more productive and also allow time to do the back of house things too," he said.

Matthew's brother James returned home to the farm in 2009 after beginning a heavy diesel mechanic apprenticeship at Wakefield Trucks in Adelaide.

"When I finished school, the family farm was operating well and my parents always gave us the opportunity to see what else suited us," he said.

"But at the end of year 11, my teacher sat me down and asked what I wanted to do as a career and I said straight out that there was no way I was going to university."

James wanted to complete a trade or be on-farm.

"I can remember helping dad to fix tractors as the torch holder and I did a good job of shining the torch into his eyes most of the time," he said.

When John said James could come home and work on the farm, the seed of expansion was sown and it helped to build the farm to what it is today.

"It went from strength to strength - dad has already implemented continuous cropping and removed fences, then we introduced data collection and yield mapping to progress the farm," James said.

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Technology progression

The farm has progressed from Sydney Davey feeding horses at dawn to get them ready for working the farm each day to his son bringing the internet to the Yorke Peninsula, and this progression is not about to slow down.

In about 1978, John read a newspaper article that toyed with the idea of satellites controlling the way people worked and lived and at the time, he scoffed at what seemed to be a very distant concept.

But to his surprise, the Chamberlain tractor he bought that year was the first machine he fitted an auto steer system to.

"Technology of this level was coming whether we were ready for it or not," John said.

"Before I knew it, I was really interested in where it could take us and I got into computer technology soon after - I bought my first computer in 1982."

John said he knew technology of this kind was about to "take off", so he immersed himself into the world of computer science and technology, and how he could utilise the skills on-farm.

"I was using a computer before Windows came out and basically two of my passions could come together - agriculture and technology," he said.

In 1987, John realised he harbored a love for programming and designed a farm accounting program.

"There was not really much around for farmers to use other than writing it down, so I wanted to create a program that would help with farm accounting, fertiliser and lease cost analysis," he said.

He said gaining access to these tools was not easy and John realised that the internet was a crucial element for success.

"Myself and another local farmer Richard Cane worked together and brought the internet to the YP to help with applying tech on-farm," he said.

"Richard began a computing business on the side and I came in on the back of that."

John was driven by wanting better access to information and that interest has been passed on to his sons.

"We can definitely do more on the farm and through our continuous adoption of technology that will become possible and easier," he said.

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Pushing boundaries

Matthew Davey's pursuit of sustainable farming has been supported by his avid adoption of the latest technological advancements, making him the standout winner of the Award for Excellence in Technology.

Matthew was a top four finalist in the 2020-21 Australian Farmer of the Year category and strives to be a leader in farming by maintaining a focus on soil nutrition and utilising technology to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability.

Matthew believes technology has been the primary means of achieving maximum efficiency for their farming operations.

"Ignoring the benefits of agtech is like farming in the dark," he said.

"While you need to be discerning about what you use and how you use it, there are so many advantages of utilising technology in farming, and we have definitely seen positive results.

"I think any farmer needs to push the boundaries of what our industry can offer and see what works best for them."

Matthew's extensive and effective use of agtech was a great case study for farmers looking to increase their use of technology on- farm.

The aim is to adopt sustainable practises to ensure the farm is able to be carried onto future generations.

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