Third-generation farmer Ian Burnett is a passionate member of the Emerald community. Never hesitating to put up his hand and volunteer when he sees a need, Ian is equally proud of his land and relishes the opportunity to work closely with family. He graciously took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his story with us.
Q: How long have you lived in the Emerald area?
A: Oh, we’ve been in the area 37 years now, so quite a while. I grew up north of Clermont, which is about 120 kilometres north of here, moved to Emerald and started growing cotton in 1983.
We’ve expanded from there and certainly bought some of the family into the operation.
Q: What do you love about living in Emerald?
A: Well certainly, we enjoy the social aspects of Emerald. We’re well catered for as far as the community goes and Rotary plays quite a large part of my life, but we’ve got some very good friends and community-wise there’s always plenty to do so we enjoy that.
Q: How have you seen Emerald change over the time you’ve been here?
A: It has changed considerably and part of that has been the construction of the Fairbairn Dam, which we rely fairly heavily on, providing water for the agricultural sector.
Also the mining sector, so Emerald has really developed as a service centre for those industries, it’s become a hub.
Although in recent years there’s been a levelling out of that development, we’re seeing it starting to rise again now.
We’re seeing things picking up with the increased activity in the resource sector and if we could get some rain, we’d see agriculture grow again also.
Q: Are you a first-generation farmer?
A: No, I would be a… third-generation farmer. My operation here has changed considerably from what my father did, he was a cattle producer.
We ventured into the farming, the agricultural side of the operations and growing cotton, which hasn’t been part of the family operations previously.
It’s something that my sons and grandchildren certainly are looking to continue with the cotton production.
Q: What do you grow or farm on your properties?
A: Well, our main crop is irrigated cotton, and we grow it every season.
This year (2019) we had to reduce the area planted because of the shortage of water but given the rainfall, and the season, we grow chickpeas, sorghum, wheat and sometimes sunflowers.
It all depends on when we get the rain and how the season pans out.
Q: What do you love about farming?
A: Oh, I think the pleasure from farming is being able to produce good products, be a good guardian of the land and really take care of what we really cherish – and that’s the soils, the nutrients and really the whole ecology on the farm.
We get great pleasure out of doing the best we can for that.
Q: Professionally, you’ve had a bit to do with Agforce so you’ve been an advocate and a voice for farmers. Could you tell us how you got involved with that and why you decided to?
A: Originally when I first got involved with farming, I became involved with representative organisations and in those days it was the Queensland Grain Growers and the Cattleman’s Union, United Graziers Association.
So I suppose an interest developed there and then Agforce was formed in 1999 and I got more involved with the representative organisation, and then became a regional president and vice-president of the organisation, and then the general president for a two-year term.
That was quite a good part of my life and I really enjoyed that work but I’ve gone back to pretty well just involved with the family operation now.
Q: How do you feel that living on a property or living life in a regional area has shaped your family? What kind of skills or qualities did your children get from the upbringing they’ve had on the land?
A: I think it’s a very good upbringing. They certainly weren’t forced into coming back into the farming organisation; it was something that they chose to do, all of the children, three boys and a daughter, all went and had tertiary training.
The boys have been involved with the farming operations, and it makes me very proud that they’re continuing an interest.
That’s their choice and they are showing an interest in representing their industry as well, which is pleasing.
Q: Did you ever see a different future for you, or do you think this was always the road you were going to go down?
A: I think it was always the road I was gonna go on; we’ve got some cattle production, but in general agriculture was always for me.
The diversity of it, I suppose, has come along and the opportunities to do something different, and that’s how we got into the cotton production.
Q: Finally, can you tell us a little bit about the pink cotton bales?
A: The pink bales are an initiative of the cotton industry to raise funds for the McGrath Foundation, for breast cancer support.
The cotton industry has taken part in that fundraising; the manufacturer of the pink wrap on the bales donates 50 cents per bale to the Foundation… it’s providing good funding for a very important research and organisation.