Farmers are not 'just' farmers, says Belinda Hagan

For this week’s profile to celebrate the Australian  Year of the Farmer ELOISE JOHNSTONE spoke to a Tooborac pork producer. 

Belinda Hagan was one of three finalists in the 2012 Farming Woman of the Year award at the Australian Farmer of the Year awards last week.

The free-range pork producer has run McIvor Farm with her husband Jason for two years.

With Belinda’s background in animal nutrition and pig farming, the Hagans have worked at creating a pig farm which goes “beyond sustainable”.

“The last 10 years, working in agriculture and going through drought, everyone was in survival mode,” she said. 

“It’s really quite frustrating and emotionally draining just surviving, so we really decided to take this past surviving and even beyond sustainable. We want to regenerate and improve our land.”

The pigs are an integral part of the Hagan’s farming system. They are put into small paddocks to plough the land and eat roots and bulbs. 

Once the ground has been ploughed, aerated and fertilised, the pigs are moved onto the next cell and the land is given time to rest and regenerate for three to six months.

The Hagans then decide whether they want to run sheep through it or graze pigs again.

They sell their pork at farmers’ markets, selected butchers and at a shop on their farm, the site of the Hagan family butcher’s shop, which was in use from the 1920s to 1950s. 

The Hagans’ move into farming was made after a wedding, a trip around Australia which exposed them to environmental farming, and a course called “inspiring farming women”.

“What that course did was took me through what our values in life were and what we wanted to achieve,” Belinda said.

“We set up a vision board which has got all the pictures of things we want to achieve. We looked at what is important to us, like family, work/life balance, and an appreciation and respect for all things, from the bugs in soil, to the people that work for us and ourselves. 

“That’s one big thing that is overlooked in agriculture. We are a key part of the system so we have to look after ourselves and make sure we are healthy and fit.” 

Belinda said it was one thing to work out what they wanted to do, and another to actually commit to it.

“The biggest leap was having faith in ourselves. We had all of this vision, but we had to get the confidence to actually go for it.”

Belinda cited the National Environmental Centre in Albury and a farm at Woodend which has TAFE courses on regenerating agriculture as driving forces behind their farming philosophies. 

“It’s not only about regenerating land but regenerating enthusiasm and interest in farming in the youth,” she said.

“When I started in agriculture it opened so many doors. There are so many opportunities. I don’t think people realise that there’s some fantastic careers out there. 

“We’ve really got to get some youth into agriculture.”

Belinda thinks the perception of farmers has to be changed from within. 

“You meet people and they say ‘I’m just a farmer’. 

“They’re not,” she said. “They are food producers, land stewards.”

She said awards such as the Australian Farmer of the Year went some way to recognising and respecting the success of farmers.

“There are people doing amazing things out there and taking rural leadership roles. I was privileged to be involved, and it was a big surprise to be nominated.” 

Belinda said she would use her award nomination as a platform to advocate for farmers and address the city and rural divide.

Footnote: The Farming Woman of the Year award was won by Anne Williams of Coonamble, NSW.

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