Humans of Agriculture

“You've just got to be there, in the discussion, because something will trigger something and make you think, and I think that's the best thing.”

18 months ago, tragedy struck at the Langley’s property at Pine Hill in South Australia.

After suffering a medical episode, Ted Langley’s brother would pass away. After 30 years in partnership, the succession to the next generation would be immediate. 

140 years on from when the Langley family first established themselves on the property, Ted, alongside his daughter and two nephews, continues the families legacy.

The constant during their time; the importance of change and evolution. 

Ted’s open mindset to adoption of continual improved farming practices is inspirational. His recent announcement as a 2023 Syngenta Growth Award recipient in the category of productivity is well deserved. A great listen for where you are tuning in from today!

This podcast episode is in a partnership with Syngenta Australia featuring recipients of the Syngenta 2023 Growth Awards.

Partner: Nuffield Australia - If you're interested in applying for a Nuffield Scholarship and join a global alumni network of more than 2,000 scholars, head to www.nuffield.com.au

Sponsor: Boarding Schools Expo
- Amanda and the team at Boarding Schools Expo have helped more than 15,000 children find their future boarding schools. With the biggest and best Expo of Aussie Boarding Schools being held in Wagga Wagga on the 21st and 22nd of June, head to Boarding Schools Expo to find out more.

What is Humans of Agriculture?

Welcome to Humans of Agriculture. This podcast series is dedicated to discovering more about our food system, from the people involved in it.

Along the journey we'll be meeting people from all walks of life from Australia and from afar. Join us as we find out how our communities and our culture shape what we eat, and ultimately who we are.
​More people, More often, Identifying with Agriculture

Oli Le Lievre 0:02
G'day and welcome back to the humans of agriculture Podcast. Today I'm sitting down with Ted Langley who's one of the Syngenta growth award winners now, did say we're getting towards the tail and we are getting very, very close to wrapping up these stories. And if you haven't listened to them, check them out. We've got over the last few weeks, we've been sharing different growth award winners and they've come from the wine industry. From agronomy, from cotton growing, they have covered everything. It's been fascinating. Now 18 months ago, tragedy struck at the Langley is property at Pine Hill in South Australia. After suffering and medical episode 10. Laying Lee's brother would pass away. After 30 years in a partnership together, succession to the next generation would be immediate today. 140 years on from when the Langley family first started farming on the property, Ted farms alongside his daughter and two nephews and continues to manage the family's legacy. If there's something that really stuck out to me as part of his episodes, but the real constant in the whole time the family has been farming is around the importance of evolution. And I think this is something that Ted really talks to really well and something that I've really got away from it. So let's jump into it

firstly, your your one of a series of people that were chatting to as part of the Syngenta growth awards and we've chatted to a bit of a mixture. Obviously, agronomists but also winemakers, you're the productivity grower winner for the Syngenta growth awards. 2023 You've got a little bit of overseas travel I think planned either. I think it's this year 2024 I believe you guys are heading overseas, you probably know more about it than me. But Mike, welcome to the humans of agriculture podcast.

Speaker 1 1:45
Thank you. Yes. Now I actually don't know when the travel is, but it's it is this year, but I'm not sure if it's June or later in the year. Well,

Oli Le Lievre 1:54
we'll keep our eyes peeled for your little overseas jaunt. Wherever that takes you. But, mate, firstly, how's the Christmas, how's New Year's and how's the start of 2024 looking for you?

Speaker 1 2:03
Well, we will starting off having an early harvest, and then the rain turned up down in this area. So we sort of got a week in and then around. And then it just seemed to be a year, it took a long time for the grain moisture to drop back down for receivable standards. And that was very frustrating when you've got a bit of sun a little wind, but the moisture won't drop and it just took a long time to do. But in the end for us, we sort of finished up in an average sort of time we normally finish between around Christmas New Year if you have a good run, you can do a lot in a fortnight if you get a good run and everything goes smoothly. But it normally takes a month I guess down this way for most guys to sort of make a fair haul and harvest. And then yeah, so we sort of had a few little breaks there. But it's not really a break. When you're waiting to finish your workload and your harvest for the year. Sitting there. It's actually quite frustrating even though you're not doing anything but watching a bit of cricket and things over the summer. So yeah, it's been a year we eventually got there. Once

Oli Le Lievre 3:04
harvest is done, Ted, what do you look forward to? What do you do for fun once you've got that stressful, enjoyable, exciting time if you're done?

Speaker 1 3:11
Well, for all of my life, our family's had a property at robe in the southeast of South Australia, which is only an hour and a half away. So it's just like clockwork to head straight to the beach. As soon as as soon as that's done once the stock we still run some stock. So once they're in shape to sort of leave for a week or two and then just pop down to the beach and just enjoy sitting on the beach and not doing a lot when you I guess when you work physically hard I actually enjoy sitting there doing very little on the beach and just having a bit of a swim every every now and then. And that's sort of my relaxation rather than doing anything strenuous but we some friends go off waterskiing and things like that. And that's that's great fun, obviously. But that looks like work to me. I'd rather just sit there and watch. So

Oli Le Lievre 4:01
I'm with you actually I kind of got like literally just doing nothing just doing reading a book for a little bit if you feel like it, snoozing, whatever.

Speaker 1 4:10
You know, sort of and it's a bit of the townie life, I guess living when you're on holidays in a town when you're used to being on the rural property, you know, out from town and just being able to walk down the street and grab a coffee or a brunch or something or other or just walk to dinner. And that's yeah, that's a nice little change doesn't matter which little town you're in or village or city you're in but that's a that's a nice little thing for a farmer to be able to do. Absolutely.

Oli Le Lievre 4:36
It's the simple things Ted said tell me when you're not on holidays, enjoying your brunch and coffees and everything else. Tell me a little bit about the neck of the woods that you call home.

Speaker 1 4:44
Yeah, so border town is the is the closest town where a little locality of called Pine Hill which is about 10 kilometres out and the Tatiana is the name of the district so we're on the Victorian border in South Australia. Yeah, and we're just a little patch of soil that sort of quite unique in this region. It's a sandier soil to the north and to the south, and to the west. And it's an area there's a lot of diverse agriculture, there's just about everything you can really do. There's irrigation, we have underground water here. So those people that have got the rights to water can irrigate. So there's a lot of dryland loosen, as well as irrigated loosened with that, and then there's vineyards and some dairy. So water for grazing, and just about any broadacre crop and, and then with that irrigation crops as well, so so a few specialty things. So it's, it's quite a unique little area. So you can diversify to whatever you want. Even a neighbour does Gladiola. So that's something very interesting to see right through the fence. What they get up to. So yeah, it's a very diverse little area. There's a lot of long term family farms here, and a sort of a smaller area and not many have come from outside have come to this area, because it is sort of a quite a smaller area.

Oli Le Lievre 6:11
Tell me what is Gladiola I wanted to go on Google Summit. So

Speaker 1 6:15
Dame Edna, the likes of Dame Edna used to have Gladis, bring Gladis and then hand them out to the audience. So they just said a bowl, and it has a long flair of various different colours. And it's, it's one of those you can sort of buy and sit on the innovators on the shelf, and it'll flare and another flare open out as it goes up the stem. So it's Yeah, I think they're from Poland originally, or somewhere over there. But yeah, this is sort of the Australian markets. growing out Barb's the neighbour does for anyone that buys a glare dry bulb, probably would come from the tower. Yeah,

Oli Le Lievre 6:51
I did just go on that. I do recognise them didn't recognise them. And is it just you on the on the farm? It's obviously a family farm?

Speaker 1 6:58
Yes, not. So it's a family farm. We've been here for 140 years. But at the moment, it's my daughter, and two nephews. Unfortunately, my brother passed away a few months ago, suddenly on the farm, and from a medical episode. So my brother and I did farm together for 30 odd years. But unfortunately, he did pass away months ago, but his nephews are on the farm. So so we're still sort of continuing that on as a family farm in a partnership. So we're two younger nephews, and in the door, and I'm

Oli Le Lievre 7:34
sorry to hear that Ted. But I presume the next generation keep you on your toes a little bit as well. No,

Speaker 1 7:40
well, they definitely do. And that's what Yeah, well, it's just exciting, sort of, you know, sharing what we do understanding seeing them learn the ropes, I guess, and be interested into the farming and adjust it. Well, I guess it keeps you young to an extent having younger people around and working in the town. So yeah, it has, it is a good thing. And it's a good feeling. And everyone's keen to be here. And and that's what it's about. So enthusiastic. The other thing we have employed backpackers for harvest and stuff, and we had one one this year, and that sort of good fun. So fella from a different country and a little different perspective on a lot of things. And you have a bit more fun, but and obviously a young person as well. So yeah, another young one in the same.

Oli Le Lievre 8:21
Absolutely. So how's the farm evolved? You mentioned you've been been farming with your brother for 30 odd years. How did it evolve in the time since you guys took over and what the early 90s?

Speaker 1 8:33
Well, I suppose we're at that age. So probably when I started we were cultivating and preparing the soil was was definitely the norm in the district and and the whole country. And being we're fortunate enough our father did let us have some say and some control over decisions. So there's a bit of a mixed bag but I'd say traditionally in this area, the father or the grandfather holds on to the reins and doesn't let the next generation try many new ideas. But our father fortunately said Well, yes, you can. So we weren't absolutely the first ones in the district to try and no till. And that's the sort of the direction we went in the cropping. And we were probably half cropping and half livestock half sheet. When when we started on the farm, my brother and I, he was say two years older than me so similar age. So and we just sort of transitioned into the cropping, the cropping has sort of taken over the livestock we've run shape, Marina Marina has shaped for wool, and then bred to a few replacement Marino's and then prime lambs over the rest and that sort of pretty stiff standard for this area. But it just like everyone knows the wool job hasn't really changed in 30 years, and you can make money out of it. But things haven't progressed like in the cropping side. So genuinely, the cropping has now is now three quarters of our operation and livestock is only a quarter, but it's still there and The background and it provides different areas. But going into that no till thing is probably where we sort of transitioned in and every, every person of my age or around my age would have the story about their father or grandfather saying this is never going to work and, you know, having a machete a Seder or drill have with half the times missing, and it's just gonna be a disaster. And for them to see that in front of their eyes, is quite incredible. And there's some funny stories about older farmers driving past and pulling up and going, Oh, is this the one you did with half the machine missing? And, and it's just a funny transition, but how it's become so successful, and obviously, you know, trans transitioning into that, but we still have people in the district that that do do things conventionally. And it's actually still good to see. It's not, I guess, it's sort of looking back into the past in a way that they choose to do that. It's, it's what they they enjoy, and they chose to do. But I guess the thing when you're a younger person, so when I was 30 years ago, you don't want to spend endless hours on machinery, preparing soil running over it three or four times. So the one past seeding was very appealing to anyone that was under 25. And it's my guess, as much as anyone might like machinery and sitting on tractors as young people do. But the least amount of time in reality as you can. And that's what it is, and basically letting the soil prepare itself. You know, you don't have to do a lot tour, you can just let nature take its course. And that's what we've all discovered and, and refined over the last 20 or 30 years, I think,

Oli Le Lievre 11:33
Mike, can you explain to me and maybe there's a few of the listeners as well, like, what is no till farming? And can you maybe explain it in terms of what it looked like before in your operation and how you actually have changed as times gone on? Well,

Speaker 1 11:47
well, I guess it was saying like I was saying preparing the belief was always and still is in many parts of the world is saved needs to be placed into a cultivated soil somewhere in that tooth in that area, and then it will grow and the roots can grow into that freshly worked up soil. But basically, no tail is basically putting the seed into the ground in any way. And we're actually what we call zero till now, because we're a disk cedar. So disk cedar is simply slicing the ground open, healing a soil back of ribbon, dropping a seed in and then folding it back in, and then just letting and letting its finest own way through the soil. And that's where the absence, as many of the scope of the absence of tillage, the soil has macro pores, and micro pores to stay open, and old root channels. And if they're not disturbed, then the following crop follows those root channels down without the need to cultivate it. But if you can certainly say the older generation just couldn't believe that you could throw a seed in the in the soil, and it would grow into a profitable crop. So you can you can, it's just a whole mindset change. But I guess the fortunate thing is the ones of my generation, we were younger. So we weren't brought up with multiple years of this cultivation, to put the seed in this tooth. And there's even I guess, the veggie patch, there's still people want to dig and cultivate, but it is interesting now watching some of the gardening shows on on TV, that they are just dropping the seed and in the surface, and not worrying about doing it, even though others do. But if you can leave all those worms and things in there, just leave them how it is then that just is just replicating nature as close as we can whilst growing cash crops I guess. So we aren't, we aren't nature, but we're trying to be as close as we can, and still make money.

Oli Le Lievre 13:37
And as long as you don't put the seeds upside down, they should grow. Now I'm kidding. That's a terrible joke. But like, was it evidenced in the first year and immediately that like it was going to work? Or did did it take a little bit to, especially in your area to see that older generation kind of come around to going out it's working it's doing its thing is

Speaker 1 13:58
the machinery we had that we adapted to that first side, one pass seeding wasn't really equipped for it. So time breakout is something that keeps that time in the seating depth in position. And they just weren't because they were used to working in tooth in and worked up soil. So that was the biggest disadvantage at the start. So if you were lucky enough to have a bit of moisture and get it in, you could clearly show without the cultivation and grow but but there was many that there was the time break out of the machine couldn't keep the seat at a uniform depth. So parts of the field where it was lying near may be correct, and then the harder areas weren't. But it was it was still pretty clear the yield. The other thing the crop did does grow a bit different in its growth stages through or it used to. So for an older person to look at it and they'd go, this is not going to be any good because I had one looking like this years ago through cultivation but it It does, it does recover and grow slightly different. Something we do now we're on closer row spacing. So we're the same seeds per square metre. But the crop architect to architecture is different. Because it's got more room because it's in closer rows, there's less seeds closer to each other, and it grows flatter, it's not as erect straightaway as other ones do. But even today, we'll see agronomists look at it and go, oh, it just looks different than the neighbours and the same variety. But if he's on wider row spacings, and has those same seeds in fewer rows than a crops more erect because there's more competition trying to push it up. So there's a lot of visual things. But in coming back to the point, simply the yield very quickly, the yield was identical or uneven, or just say it was the same. And then, but you'd saved all that fuel and working in time. And that was just a huge saving at that point. And any, you know, machinery, maintenance hours on tractors and things like that. So you ended up with a very profitable crop at the end. And with the savings of all that time was just very clear and evident. And

Oli Le Lievre 16:11
you've had the chance to go and see properties and farming across the UK, America and New Zealand, like how had the perspectives of seeing those different countries kind of shape and compare compared to your neck of the woods down at Bordertown woods,

Speaker 1 16:24
we're all about just putting seed into soil and growing a crop, I guess. But there's a lot of similarities, really. But it was, it was it's interesting in both of those countries, with the adoption of no tool, there is ones that are doing it successfully. And then there's plenty that just say you just can't beat them all board player and play out in and try to be an end as we sort of know the seasons change. And some years, it may not suit perfectly, but the long term gain is well and truly there. So the maybe a slight event, a weather event or something that perhaps doesn't suit it at the time, but overall in the end of the day, then then it's all good. I guess a lot of farmers want to see if you're going to change, you want it to be perfect in every way. And it's almost a bit like changing over the brand of car you drive. There's features on there that you haven't got on yours that you current one that you think are fantastic. But I bet you there's five features that it hasn't got that the other one did. So it's just how you adapt into there and see those features with your open eyes. But yeah, there's very passionate people in both in Europe and North America that are all ok on it. But there's also the ones that still think it's not going to work similar to here. But I guess Australia, really I think the adaption rate is really 80 or 90%. And you'll probably never capture those last 10%. Because they just choose to you choose to do what you do on your own land.

Oli Le Lievre 17:53
Yeah, what's really interesting, Ted, and I'm glad you say that because it is that people fail, and they can kind of decide what they want to do. And only in the last few weeks that kind of somebody said something to me and kind of had this trigger moment where I was like, oh, yeah, you know, like, it is actually really important that there is different people doing different things, and that not everyone farms the exact same way or whatever it is because like in those little microcosms and micro communities of how different people grow things or whatever, like that's what makes the sector kinda what it is and the communities what they are, because there's the different people in the different areas, but also provides that perspective to go oh, actually do it this way, because I probably like it. And I think that's the point that you've made a few times, which is really interesting. Yes,

Speaker 1 18:36
nowadays, and that it's a bit of a mindset, as long as it's successful, and you're, you're meeting all your goals you want to the worst thing can be is some of that just goes well, I haven't made a profit for years and and then doing the same thing over and over and over again, getting the same result. And that's, that's disheartening, but because you can't, you can't convince anyone to change what they're doing. Really, you can show by example, it's, it's even something like our local ag bureau. Everyone does say stock works slightly different and things like that, and runs sheet different in the same shape slightly differently, that you can get an expert advisor in and give advice on things, but 10% will never change what they're doing, because they just believe that it suits exactly where they are. But there's a lot of similarities around everywhere. That we're all very similar. Really. Absolutely.

Oli Le Lievre 19:28
So we've talked about, I guess a little bit of the evolution of your business with especially that implementation of no till you've now got the next generation coming in. So what's on the horizon, both in the near term, but probably, yeah, that three to five years out for you guys and what you're trying to do? Well,

Speaker 1 19:46
I suppose it's sort of like something we've always tried to focus on even though you think you're on a good thing, you still have got to try and evolve and try and approve little areas but there's no drastic big step. So there's Really trying a few different crops, I suppose is our thing, what we came to do, it's very easy to grow the same crops. Like I said, in our area, we can grow a different array of crops, but there's higher risk in different crops, generally, and that's why they're priced the price of some of those are, that's what makes them attractive, but it's a higher risk. So it's just depends what risks you want to take. But if you can, you've got a successful business, you can always take a bit of risk on a small area, you know, five or 10% and try something different. So, so trying a different proper suppose chickpeas or something we had we are dabbling in now. And that's a result of that fibre bein price dropping a couple of years ago, they did come up this year. But something that's so along those lines to continually, slightly evolve to see a few different crops could grow. And there's other areas obviously grow them very well. But in our little area we are, can be a little bit unique. And there can be other issues. But But along the way, I think just keeping things very similar, but just tweaking around the edges. And that's what we're trying to do. And then in keeping them involved.

Oli Le Lievre 21:11
So is there and I we chatted about at the beginning, but with with the Syngenta growth award and being a winner, you do get to head overseas and have a look at a bunch of different farming operations. And I guess different agricultural businesses really over there. Is there anything that's top of mind or something in particular that you're kind of heading over with maybe like an intention to look at something or gain an understanding, or you're taking it pretty open minded, or

Speaker 1 21:38
pretty open minded, I suppose. But I guess going along the biological approach is something that is is of great interest. And see, there are companies developing products now such as the nitrogen products that can take nitrogen out of the air into a wheat crop, if you apply, so things like that evolving to use what we've already got. And then pest control what other people are doing things like sled control, what sort of works, slams are an issue in our area. So that'll be interesting. But we've just got to keep in mind that biological side, but not drifting too far, we've still got to make money we've got to be profitable is always the goal. But if we can look at those areas, so that's that'll be interesting in that sort of space to see. See what it is the technology is something else as well, that would be good to see. On the farm. We did have a few years ago, one of the universities had a spore trap for fungal diseases. And that funding ran out. But timing sprays with the fungal load when those spores release. And if you can have a trap to monitor these things, and really, you should be able to have a like a spore trap an insect trap for everything. So really, you can cut back on that preventative spray that you don't actually need. So I know with this spore trap for fungal diseases in veins, there was the first three years two of those years there wasn't enough spores to wire to spray. But we all do preventative spray, because the preventative spray is much more important than a reactive spray. But if you can have the technology in your field, or paddock, and just work exactly with that when those spot you can sit they do have moisture, you know humidity. And temperature is a driver of when these things can start. And that's a guide in vineyards and things I believe. But all these the spore traps the wine, if once that spores relief, it shouldn't be perfect.

Oli Le Lievre 23:46
And I think it'll be interesting. I've met with a couple of different winners and agronomist, cotton growers viticulturalist as well. super interesting. And something that I really learned lately was how the cotton industry has evolved from what was say 10 to 15 in crop sprays that they were doing to now like insecticide buyers that one of the girls had only done one in the last three years. And that was through biological controls through better, I guess saying technology and better growing practice. It's a fascinating what you'll be able to learn off those different guys and girls as part of it as well. Yes,

Speaker 1 24:22
now that's fine. And you just got to be open to all those areas of working and not be too focused on paying at any anti technology. Absolutely. So,

Oli Le Lievre 24:34
Ted, I'm interested when they announced that you were the winner. What was running through your head, having seen different people across the night met different people. What were you thinking?

Speaker 1 24:43
Well, I suppose I was just I was surprised. Obviously if you're in it you're in the running but yeah, I I didn't really expect Yeah, because you do meet others through the day and listen, and he is like he's a he's right on the ball and whatever. But I guess it's Whatever. Yeah, I guess that's more or they have 10 judges to work with all through that. You know, it was, it wasn't there was surprised, but it was, yeah, it was really good.

Oli Le Lievre 25:10
How, like, I'm gonna say, how'd you find the process? But like, what have you gained personally from it so far? Like through that experience of the application? What has been one key thing or key highlight of your farming career so far? And other questions like that? Was that Bella,

Speaker 1 25:25
I suppose one of the things that's just a sort of a vibe thing of, of anything like this is you do have to sit down and work out what you do, how you do, how to explain it to someone else. So it's actually you're almost giving a little peer review of your own situation. So that's probably something to sit down and write things down and say, How can I how can I make this into sense and, and what do we do? And try? And yeah, so not that we're unique in any way, I suppose. But yeah, just along the way, and it is good to mate. And I think just just making those people it's quite funny, sitting there with with a capital that we just ended up talking, and they were ended up being winners as well. So we thought that was funny at the end of the night and saying, Oh, wait, you know, sat together all day. So yeah, it was it's just what a funny meeting different ones, but, and just, I guess the different the different thinking too, which is good when you get all those different areas of people together? Because I think that's something I hear sometimes you'll go to something. And we'll some people we deal with, as a farmer will just say, whatever you say they'll go, Yes, that's right. Because they because you're their client, and they don't want to lose you as their client. So they just slow to support you and agree with everything you're saying. They'll never say against all that, they might try and steer you off in a different direction. But when you're in a different group, everyone just says what they think. And because you're not, well, I wasn't out to impress anybody else, sort of through the day that meeting other people, but you just sort of speak yourself. And it's just good to hear different opinions. And you can say something because you don't want to be a soundboard like a mirror image, or a mirror sounding of everyone else, you've got to be a bit different. And that's where different things come in. And then it might just be the light bulb moment for someone else to then give the answer that you're looking for. So just that bit of stimulation, I guess, to you to think. And that's what it's all about. I've areas, one of the trips, a local farming group went to New Zealand on a bit of a study tour 10 years ago. And the feedback I got after was, they wanted to know what everyone got out of it. And one of the guys goes, well, I met one of the other participants. And he answered, He solved three of my problems in the airport lounge waiting to go, it's sitting in Melbourne waiting to find it. So that was nice. So they were three problems he had on his in his business. And he solved them by sitting there talking to this bloke he didn't know, in the hours to get on the plane, nothing to do with New Zealand at all. But that's that's what it's about. You've just got to be there in the discussion, because something will trigger something and make you think and then yeah, and I think that's the best thing

Oli Le Lievre 28:09
totally did. Now I think you're bang on there, that kind of peer learning, I tell you, it's the sacred of a podcast, you get the chance to ask people different questions of things you're trying to work out, and you just get to pick their brain on things that you're trying to work out or overcome yourself, say, I'm bloody excited for all of you. It's, it'd be such an interesting group to be part of. And I think that, as you say that peer to peer learning of different experiences of how people approach different things is going to be fantastic. Yeah. Well, Ted, thank you so much for coming and having a chat. Good luck with your year of travel and farming and everything else that you've got to juggle this year. And hopefully, we can keep abreast of what you guys are up to and, and even circle back later on and say what some of the takeaways were and, and maybe why others should look to try and get involved if they have the opportunity as well.

Speaker 1 28:58
I'll talk about the opportunity. So taking those opportunities. It's

Oli Le Lievre 29:03
fantastic. Thanks, Ted. Thank you. Well, that's it for another episode from us here at humans of agriculture. We hope you're enjoying these podcasts. And well if you're not, let us know hit us up at Hello at humans of agriculture.com. Get in touch with any guests recommendations topics, or things you'd like us to talk and get curious about. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend. Right subscribe, review it, any feedback is absolutely awesome. And we really do welcome it. So look after yourselves. Stay safe. stay sane. We'll see you next time.

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