Life-changing discovery leads to more nutritional approach


  • Shannon and Emma Byron
  • Kellalac, Wimmera, VIC
  • Mixed broadacre cropping, sheep and cattle
  • Farm with Shannon’s parents Kim and Lynette
  • Minimum, no-till system with stubble retention since 1985
  • Changed to a reduced input, biological system with a nutrition focus in 2019

by Melissa Pouliot

A growing awareness of ‘we are what we eat’ and growing more nutritious food for his children is seeing third generation Wimmera farmer Shannon Byron make significant changes in the way he farms. Changes aren’t happening overnight and some of the positive steps forward have been more by accident than by design, but there’s no going back and plenty to look forward to.

Shannon is in a mixed farming system with his wife Emma and parents Kim and Lynette at Kellalac near Warracknabeal.

Over the decades the family has added more hectares to the initial Soldier’s Settlement block his grandfather moved to in 1949, and also farm on leased country.

Shannon has been actively involved on the farm since the age of 10. He started driving the sprayer at 12 and school holidays were spent working on the farm.

The first really dry year he remembers was 1997, and although he was young, he recalls feeling like the whole year was wasted.

When a promising athletics career got cut short by injury in 2005 Shannon returned full-time to the farm at a time that couldn’t be more challenging. It was during one of the worst droughts in history, referred to as the Millennium Drought .

“Those years were just horrible. I know you need moisture to generate income, and the simple fact was we didn’t have hardly any, but I can see now that our farming practices were partly to blame.”

He says they were producing large biomass crops with high input costs and the drought’s long run of high temperatures and lack of finishing rains took a significant toll.

“Some of those years would shape up okay until we got to July-August and our crops started to shut off due to lack of moisture. We’d spent all that money on inputs and at harvest we’d have nothing to show for it.”

He recalls ‘super hot’ finishes, including one year where temperatures during October reached up to 40 degrees Celsius and ‘shrivelled everything’.

“This was another one of those years where everything had been paid for and all our inputs were in the paddock, and we just got hammered. During that drought it was quite easy to tip in a lot of money but not get much back, or go backwards pretty quick.”

Conventional system

Their soils are mixed and range from heavy black and grey self-mulching flats to sand over clay to mixed red ground.

The cropping rotation has always been mainly cereals – wheat, barley and canola. They also grow lentils, chick peas, peas, beans and vetch for seed or hay. They used to grow lupins until radish problems developed from herbicide resistance.

For their sheep and cattle, they sow a basic multi-species mix of vetch and barley combined with whatever else germinates in the paddock.

What doesn’t get grazed they windrow before it goes to seed in late spring to preserve feed and reduce summer fire risk. This helps them secure feed until May-June the following year.

The family has also undertaken numerous Landcare and property- improvement projects with Wimmera CMA through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, including building stock containment areas and shelterbelts to improve farm biodiversity .

Finishing challenges

Shannon says ‘finishing’ challenges are common in the Wimmera, whether it be frost, drought, grasshoppers, mice, other insects or rainfall impacting them at the end of the growing season. Their heavy country is particularly susceptible to crops ‘falling over’ quickly in dry conditions.

“We are a high-risk industry and are so vulnerable to the elements. Also, being in a lower rainfall area presents added challenges.

“In our system we always seemed to be pinched, with high screenings, large biomass that wouldn’t go through to grain-fill and plants with nutrient imbalances, resulting in less resilience through drought.”

One proposed solution during those drought years was to take on more ground and upgrade machinery, with the consensus being this enabled you to generate more income and pay down debt quicker in better years.

“This is not something we adopted but at that time we did have a considerable level of debt. We didn’t want to work our whole lives to try and pay off the farm but we worked as hard as we could, seven days a week.

“It wasn’t very good for our lifestyle and it has taken a toll on all of us and we’ve missed out on a lot of things, but we never said it’s too hard or wanted to quit. We just put our heads down, bums up and got things done.”

Although the drought resulted in significant crop losses they held onto their livestock, and were able to keep moving forward.

“The livestock saved us; we may not have survived that drought without them.”

Striving for better

Shannon and his Dad share a dry sense of humour, a positive approach and a willingness to take on new things. They have always strived to do better and improve their methods and the way they managed their farm. When it came to the core basics of agronomy and soil biology, they relied heavily on the guidance of others. But one of their paddocks had Shannon stumped.

“We had one particular block on our lease country where we grew canola, and we seemed to need a lot of synthetic inputs, yet we had very poor germination and infiltration. The following year the paddock laid a lot of water and things just got worse. We spent more money on inputs, it was costing us more than we were making.”

In 2017, Shannon started looking in more depth into what might be causing these hard pans and herbicide damage.

“I knew something wasn’t quite right but I didn’t have a clue what I was searching for.”

He came across a paper highlighting that one of the chemicals they were using was deadly on soil bacteria. He found another article on soil health and biology by internationally acclaimed nutritionist Graeme Sait from Queensland.

“The penny dropped. What was the chemical we were pouring onto the paddock doing to the soil?”


  • This project is supported by Wimmera CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. 
  • This Wimmera farming case study was first published in March 2023.

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