The Next Generation Of Farmers Undeterred By Drought

As a crippling dry hits the country, these young people aren’t giving up on their dreams just yet.

Rubey Williams has not known a day spent without her alpaca. 

Growing up on her family-run farm in Mittagong, in the NSW Southern Highlands, the 18-year-old is juggling afternoon hay runs with study for her trial HSC exams.

And she says these “majestic” animals will be part of her future.

“To me, not only do they represent a primary income for my family, they’re great companions," she told ten daily.

"To me, they represent a place where I can be myself."
Rubey Williams describes her alpaca as "majestic" with a slight touch of intelligent. Image: Emma Brancatisano

Rubey has known how drought feels from a young age. She remembers once green paddocks turning to dirt and dust on one of their properties back in 2007.

“That was weird as a kid, seeing nothing around you,” she said.

Luckily, the crippling dry conditions and little rainfall currently sweeping parts of the country, including virtually all of NSW, have not been felt so close to home.

“It has been a tough time,” Rubey said.

“But we haven't had the mass effects that others around us have. I think we were much more prepared for this drought than we were back then."

"We saw it coming.”

Darcy Howard, 16, dreams of one day own his own farm. Image: Emma Brancatisano

Sixteen-year-old Darcy Howard, from Bowral, also remains optimistic despite seeing his community and family struggle through drought.

“(My grandparents) haven’t had any decent rainfall for a while,” he told ten daily, after spending time on their Young property in the South-West Slopes region of NSW.

“Coming into winter, they are getting a lot of frost, which is killing off whatever growth they have. And they’re very concerned their feed might run out.”

Like Rubey, Darcy has grown up on the land. Now studying agriculture at school, he says his dream of entering farming is not deterred by the struggle.

“I can see how it affects others who may not have had a taste of the industry from a young age. But I’ve grown up with this,” he said.

“It’s what I have wanted ever since I was a little kid.”
The Haunting Poem That Is The Silent Face Of Drought
Taking over a family name

Rubey’s father Mick was in line to be a fourth-generation merino wool farmer before he and his wife decided to farm alpaca.

Now he never makes a decision without his daughter.

“She has that tenacious look about her … and she has put a fair lot of skin in the game,” he said, nodding to Rubey taking charge of a recent livestock cull.

“The option is there for her to take over, but I’m happy for her to do what she wants to do.”

In the alpaca business for about 20 years, Mick has worked alongside other farmers to implement drought-proofing measures.

“We normally run cattle with the alpaca. We didn’t even contemplate that this year,” he said.

Mick Williams' alpaca farm has not been hugely affected by the current drought. Image: Emma Brancatisano

“After that, we tried to sow early -- when we had a little bit of rain -- to maintain cover and we did some really short paddock rotations.”

These are practices Rubey believes will ready her in future.

“Our knowledge of the animals, and of the land, has grown significantly. It is all about preparation and management and I think my parents have given me a great start,” she said.

Practices aside, she is ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

“If anything, they strengthen my passion for it. I think this farming lifestyle really gives you a great opportunity to face adversity and it just shows your true colours.”

Darcy Howard is optimistic about his future in farming. Image: Emma Brancatisano
‘There’s no better way to live your life’

When Darcy finishes school, he plans to work on a station up north for a year before moving into the stock and agency trade. His end goal is to own a property.

He, too, sees a silver lining through testing times.

“I have seen the struggle, but I have also experienced the good parts of farming,” he said.

“If you can understand, when it’s green and there’s a lot of rain around, there’s no better way to live your life, really.”

If you want to help Australian farmers in need, you can donate to a registered charity. Donate online to Rural Aid's Buy a Bale, Drought Angels or Lions' Need for Feed. You can also support farmers by buying Australian grown produce at your local supermarket.