Collaborative farming project comes to an end in the Riverland

Collaborative farming project comes to an end in the Riverland

When two young farming families joined forces 15 years ago they had no idea of the impact they would make on the agricultural landscape.

Key points:

  • John Gladigau is leaving the Bulla Burra farming collaborative
  • It started as a way to grow two smaller family farms 
  • It became a model for other farmers looking to enter the cooperative space

The Bulla Burra collaborative farm, in South Australia’s Mallee and Riverland regions, began when John Gladigau and Robin Schaefer combined their respective 2,000 hectares of land.

It grew to become a 9,000ha cropping operation run on a corporate model and an inspiration for people across the world looking to learn how to farm together.

Now Mr Gladigau has farewelled the business to step into the role of chair of Grain Producers South Australia.

“It’s been the most amazing adventure and allowed us to grow and become more efficient and productive,” Mr Gladigau said.

“We’ve been able to bring in technology that we could only dream about … when we were two small-to-medium family farms.”

Mr Gladigau and his wife Bronny have sold their share of the business to Mr Schaefer but still own their Alawoona property, which the Bulla Burra team will farm.

The collaborative farm brought together the Gladigau and Schaefer families.(Supplied: Robin Schaefer)

Sharing the ride

Originally established as a 10-year trial, with a five-year review, Mr Gladigau said the business grew beyond everyone’s expectations and became a model for other farmers.

“We deliberately said we’d make ourselves be open to others … [and] share the journey,” he said.

“It was at the time social media was starting to become a bit more prevalent and people were watching what we were doing from all over the world.

“It created a network … which we continue to be overwhelmed by today.”

Robin Schaefer says he is more of a risk taker, while Mr Gladigau is more risk averse.(Landline: Andrew Burch)

Mr Schaefer said teamwork and diversity of perspectives helped the farming families get through tough times when drought and storms hit.

“A problem shared is a problem halved, and one real blessing is that we’ve been able to share those problems and work through them,” he said.

“There’s also something special about when you have wins, to be able to celebrate that with the team and enjoy the moment.”

John Gladigau wrote a musical called Kick off ya Boots, which centred around a farming family.(Supplied: Kick off ya Boots)

Farmers foster creativity

Mr Schaefer said the shared farming operation meant he and Mr Gladigau had time to explore other passions outside of agriculture including theatre, mental health support, music and sport.

“It’s easy for anyone passionate [about] farming to be totally engrossed, but I think from a mental health perspective, you need balance,” he said.

“When I get away from the farm, to play sport [or] in my band or whatever, I just totally forget about farming and it’s rejuvenating and refreshes your mind.”

Robin Schaefer says it is important to explore other creative pursuits.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Mr Schaefer, who is the fourth generation of his family to farm in the region, said he hoped that among his five children, there was someone to take over.

“With the scale and size of operation that we have, I’ve said to them if all of them wanted to come back, we’d be able to find something for them,” he said.

He said he would remain committed to sharing the next chapter of the Bulla Burra story and being transparent into the future.

“We like to be a relatively open book, and I like to help people and see our community succeed,” he said.

Read More

Zaļā Josta - Reklāma