Meet The Farmers – Peter & Erin Draper, “Willow Park” & Jonty Shuter


Peter and Erin Draper live at Willow Park, a 452 hectare farm on the outskirts of the township of Leeton in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.  Leeton township was purpose built to house engineers and labourers during construction of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme in early decades of the twentieth century.  Today it is the administrative and research centre of Australia’s rice industry; provides much of Sydney’s morning OJ; exports cotton, malted barley, hay, citrus, various cereals, wines, tree nuts, native fish, poultry and a range of other rural products to countries on all continents except Antarctica.

Tyne airseeder in operation on one of the Draper farms

Willow Park is one of several properties totaling nearly 700 hectares that Peter, Erin and one employee work, with occasional help from contractors during busy periods of the year.  Their farms produce rice, cotton, oats, canola, barley and a number of other crops.  Which crops to grow each season is decided by a complex formula including water availability and water price, projected futures markets, soil types, weather forecasts, disease and weed control considerations — and other factors.  Australian farmers don’t just habitually plant the same old, same old crops.

Peter shows his small aircraft to overseas visitors. The aircraft allows Peter to quickly inspect crops over his large enterprise.

After completing secondary school Peter studied agriculture at Wagga Agricultural College (now part of Charles Sturt University) for three years before returning to the family farm in 1978 to grow rice and prime lambs on 226 hectares.  Within a few years he and Erin had purchased their own farm (Willow Park) and by 2016 had bought out a neighbour and purchased the old Draper family farm to add to their holdings.

Aerial view of Willow Park showing cotton and rice crops and layout of bankless channels

Peter and Erin’s farming operation is an interesting one to visit not only because both Peter and Erin are knowledgeable and articulate and obviously proud of their achievements, but because they employ the latest in technological farming equipment and practices.  Rice grown on beds with rollover bankless channels for irrigation, computerized high flow water management systems and  use of air seeders are part of their normal farming operations.

Agricultural Tours Riverina is grateful to switched-on farmers like Peter and Erin Draper for allowing technical and educational visits by groups from all over the world.

Are your students able to say they have seen an NDVI in its natural environment?
Would they know a moisture probe from a Goanna, how to steer a satellite-guided harvester, under what circumstances variable rate fertilizing should be applied uniformly, or how to distinguish between a dohne and a drone?
We arrange generalist introductory tours as well as focused visits to farming areas for secondary school students.  See our website www.agriculturaltoursriverina for details and an enquiry form.  Virtual reality is good – but nothing beats the excitement and insights derived from seeing/touching/smelling/hearing the real thing in its wider context.

Jonathan (best known as Jonty) Shuter is a third-generation farmer whose life-long career has been centred around agriculture, including hybrid seed production and marketing, teaching and farming.

Jonty was raised in the Riverina and retains a love of the region and a life-long interest in agriculture, farming methods and the diverse people involved in local industries.  Tertiary studies began at the Riverina College of Advanced Education (now Charles Sturt University) where he completed a Diploma of Applied Science (Agriculture) and built on that in later years with a Masters of Applied Science (Agriculture), along with a Diploma of Secondary Education.

Jonty Shuter, ATR tour guide at Bidgee Strawberries, Wagga Wagga.  Bidgee Strawberries is a commercial hydroponic strawberry farm with both commercial harvesting and “pick-your-own”.  Makes great milkshakes, too!

Jonty’s life/ work history is a smorgasbord of rural experiences. He has travelled widely, leading students on farm and industry visits, and has had broad hands-on experience ranging from working on a large cattle station in the Kimberleys, to irrigation farming in the Riverina, cropping in Warwickshire (UK) and Israel, seed production with Cargill seeds, and sheep and cattle production near Cunnamulla and Benalla.

Twenty seven years teaching TAFE students soil management, plant nutrition, pasture and crop husbandry, farm safety including safe handling of farm chemicals, animal welfare,and fencing among other subjects suits Jonty well to lead student groups and professional teams on their school excursions and technical enquiry visits. His range of experience and wide network of farming and professional contacts makes him familiar with and knowledgeable about broad areas of rural economies, industries and communities.

These days,  as well as advising ATR on best farms to visit Jonty runs his own pasture/fat lambs operation and consults and contracts services to Riverina farm businesses.

Agricultural Tours Riverina is grateful to industry professionals like Jonty who clearly enjoy assisting groups learn about the exciting world of Australian agriculture.