For a boy who grew up in Melbourne, Sam Heagney’s happy place today couldn't be any further from the suburbs. In fact, these days he says he’s never happier than when it’s harvest time and there’s headers, trucks and people running in every direction.
The cotton grower from South Bunarba Agriculture at Mungindi, NSW first dipped his toe in the farming life as a youngster on his aunty and uncle’s sheep and cattle property in South Australia. Those school holidays on the farm set him on his course - whether it was as a livestock agent, wool broker or cotton picker driver, Sam knew his future lay in agriculture.
Everything from a year jackarooing in Queensland, a job on a farm in America, a degree in farm management and a few years with a grain brokerage company followed. After meeting his wife Annette, the couple moved to her family farm in Mungindi. Eight years later the business is booming and a team of 12 full time employees are employed across both the dryland and irrigation enterprises.
Sam’s deep in the HR world these days and wears the operations manager cap at South Bunarba Agriculture. He’s passionate about making the farm an employer of choice for both young people starting out and those with more experience - although finding the latter is proving a bit trickier.
“We really like getting young people in and focus a lot on our training and there’s a lot of young people getting into ag which is really refreshing,” he said.
“The challenge is trying to attract experienced and skilled farm workers. They’re pretty few and far between and I think ag probably has itself to blame a bit. As a rule we’re not very big on spending time training people so we’re running out of skilled people.”
Sam said after watching many a skilled worker become disenchanted and move into other industries, he makes it a priority to give their young, keen staff the time and attention needed to further their careers. While it means their turnover is higher as staff move their way up, he says it's a win for the industry overall.
And when it comes to sharing his passion for all things ag, Sam enjoys a good catch-up with his farmer mates across the country and globe - all 5537 of them - on his very active Twitter account. With his knack for short videos and good news from the farming world, he’s built a positive community in what he admits can sometimes be a bit of a ‘shouty’ place.
“I just love sharing information with other farmers and seeing what other farmers around Australia and around the world are up to, seeing what sort of challenges they face and how they overcome it. If you ask a question online, farmers will jump on and answer it,” he said.
“Of course there can be a bit of negativity but you just block that out, follow other farmers and just have good chats about what the season’s doing, what the markets are doing, and I try to put out a positive message about agriculture so I mainly just get positivity back.”
It’s that outlook that keeps Sam going through tough seasons, devastating droughts and any other challenges that pop up. While he admits farmers can sometimes be a bit notorious for being all ‘doom and gloom’, overall they’re a resilient bunch who excel at coming up with solutions to problems and just getting the job done.
As a dad of three children under five whose future could lie in the agricultural world - the three-year-old told Sam this week he wants to be a cotton picker when he grows up and the one-year-old is tractor obsessed - it’s an industry he says is full of scope, potential and possibility for this generation and the next.
“I’ve come from a different background into this career and into the industry and I just really love what I do. If you’re keen and you’ve got half a brain, ag’s a pretty great place to be,” he said.
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