A new rural life filled with purpose and joy – and a tractor named “Big Rodge”

A DETERMINATION to sustainably grow food, demonstrate to fellow farmers and show their children how to regenerate the land is making Will Thorncraft and Emma Jones’ new rural life in central west New South Wales a joyous and rewarding one.

Both Will and Emma are from a long line of farmers and studied agriculture at University. Will’s great-great-great grandfather came out from Ireland and settled in Brewarrina, and Emma is from Wales, where she grew up on her family’s cattle and sheep farm. Today, they produce free range lamb, pork and eggs on their 154-hectare farm, ‘Trenton’, north of Dubbo.

They admit they felt a lot of excitement but ‘plenty of trepidation’ about moving from Coonabarabran to their own farm in May 2021. And 12 months later there was more excitement when they welcomed baby Ava to the family.

With the long-term goal of becoming self-sufficient farmers, they’re practicing regenerative agriculture to achieve a carbon-positive farm selling locally produced food from their herds of Duroc, Berkshire, Large White and Large Black pigs, Merino and Charolais sheep, and heritage and commercial breed chickens.

After starting with several working sheepdogs and six chickens, plus two sows and a boar that came with the farm, they’re now the proud owners of 80 ewes with 80-90 lambs at foot, 16 breeding sows and gilts, 37 grower pigs, and 130 hens. Baseline testing has just been done to ensure the farm’s soil carbon, with the aim of being carbon positive in five years.

“We were lucky that the previous owners designed the property with the help of Darren Doherty’s design system which focuses on hydrating the landscape through building contours, dams and fencing off water ways, assisting the native pastures to soak up as much rainfall as possible,” Will explained.

“We have good exterior fencing and use a lot of electric fencing to make temporary smaller cells or paddocks inside that, so we can rotate stock and mimic what nature does to create biodiversity.”

Will and his local John Deere dealer leaning against a fence looking into a pig pen
“We use Big Rodge pretty much daily, for fencing, moving waters, feeding animals, slashing, harrowing, unloading grain and feed, moving hay and silage, putting in bedding for pigs, cleaning out pens, moving dirt, fixing roads, building our vegie garden and cutting wood”

Will and Emma both work full time in nearby Dubbo, with the goal of paying off the farm, building their new agri-consulting business, Nextgenregen, and expanding into new production lines such as meat chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, and cattle.

They also understand the need for reliable equipment and, after driving a John Deere S680 header in the US harvest and working with John Deere seeders and sprayers in Canada, there was never any doubt what color tractor they would choose.

It wasn’t long after settling at Trenton they introduced their green and gold workhorse ‘Big Rodge’, a John Deere 4044R, to their farm to help them achieve their dream.

“Four years ago, I did the American harvest and was lucky enough to actually take the paper off the seat of a brand new S680 header, and I had eight months of driving that machine,” Will said.

“Previously, I had worked in Canada where the farmer also had John Deere machinery, a newish tractor, seeder and sprayer. Emma and I know the importance of having super reliable machinery in a country environment, so it was a no brainer to choose John Deere.”

If you ask what they use their tractor for, the answer is simple – everything!

With time the biggest limiting factor, Will says it’s important to have a trusted and durable machine that allows them to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“We use Big Rodge pretty much daily, for fencing, moving waters, feeding animals, slashing, harrowing, unloading grain and feed, moving hay and silage, putting in bedding for pigs, cleaning out pens, moving dirt, fixing roads, building our vegie garden and cutting wood,” he said.

“It’s been one of the wettest years on record so we’ve used the tractor to get over the country and feed animals and shift fencing, whereas if you were in a Ute you’d get bogged.

“It’s also incredibly easy to operate and use. I’ve had my mother, sister and cousins on the tractor doing jobs for me.”

Big Rodge came with an added bonus – a new friend, salesman Avaljot Gill or ‘Gill’ for short, from the local John Deere dealership, Hutcheon and Pearce in Dubbo.

“Gill’s engineering background, knowledge of machinery and his understanding of what we needed in a tractor made me feel like I was in good hands and getting good value for my money. I felt like I was dealing with a friend rather than a sales rep,” Will said.

“I don’t think I went into the dealership until after I purchased the tractor, as we were in the middle of COVID lockdown. But Gill has stayed in touch ever since. We have a genuine friendship.”

Will and Emma have a wish list of new additions for Big Rodge, including a sprayer to apply worm tea/compost extracts to boost soil microbes and activity; a small seeder to sow new grasses and pasture species; and a post rammer and post hole digger to put in new fencing and plant more trees.

Trenton is a work in progress, but Will and Emma say they’re happy to be busy.

“It’s worth sacrificing a little bit today for a better tomorrow,” Will said.

“We feel we have found our purpose in life. To help showcase and teach other farmers and our kids how to farm sustainably and regenerate soils while being profitable and producing nutrient dense food. Ultimately, it's just nice to live in and be a part of nature.”