Keeping innovative cane farming in the family

December 5, 2023
We’re generational farmers. When I first met Sam, I always knew that I would eventually end up on farming land.

For Bessie Orr and her husband Sam, looking into the future while valuing the past is a point of pride. They’re progressive cane farmers who are keen to try new things, uplift their community and prioritise sustainability. They have a deep well of family knowledge and support to tap into, and they see succession planning as crucial.  

The pair make a great team – Bessie on the books while Sam is on the harvester – coming together for strategic work as well as practical tasks like irrigation. They find that being on the forefront of new techniques and approaches helps their operations align with best practice and the evolving needs of the industry.  

There have been many areas where innovative methods have paid off:  

  • Irrigation – Sam and Bessie have updated their pumps to be more efficient, transitioned their irrigation systems underground, and automated operations. Trials have been crucial in making these improvements. One standout automation trial was accomplished with the help of SRA Mackay, in which an app on Sam’s phone allows him to start and stop pumps remotely, as well as confirm when each row is complete.  
It's been really helpful, especially being able to start the pump remotely without having to drive backwards and forwards from one end of the farm to the other.  
  • Productivity – Using a yield monitor on their harvester has given Sam and Bessie an accurate picture of the variability of their paddocks. They are able to identify and address any constraints or adjust fertiliser rates according to crop potential.
  • Weather – Sam and Bessie have installed weather stations on their farm to record wind, rain, and temperature readings. They can combine this with predictions and information from weather apps to decide when the conditions are most favourable for spraying.
  • Nutrient management – By conducting regular soil testing, Sam and Bessie have been able to tailor their nutrient plans for the best outcomes. They have been able to tap into local services such as SRA, SSP, Pursehouse Rural and Farmacist, for support with recent trials such as using lime and gypsum.
  • Record keeping – Along with tried and tested methods like an Excel spreadsheet, technology and automation have made record keeping simpler and more reliable. Interactive screens in their tractor allow Sam to keep the details up to date, and the system is supported by a GPS station installed in the shed.
We've got a really fantastic system within the tractors; we bought a new spray tractor a year or two ago. It's got all the technology in there to be able to record keep. It has the amount [of fertiliser] that's been applied and the rate. So that really helps out in regards to record keeping.  

Within the industry Bessie has also seen innovative practices that maximise a farm’s potential, such as by gaining revenue from cane by-products like biogas, molasses, mulch, and even the manufacture of disposable picnicware.  

Building on a solid foundation

Bessie and Sam are born and bred locals, and the farmland they live on has been in Sam’s family for generations. More than a decade ago they got the opportunity to purchase the neighbouring property, which sealed the deal for them to move onto the family farm.  

Their links to the farming community are strong, with Bessie being the president of the Proserpine Young Farmers. This group meets to share knowledge and demonstrate new practices, which will be vital to keep the industry growing. Bessie is passionate about supporting the next generation.  

I think getting the younger farmers involved at that younger age would be ideal because they've got that drive there to continue on with different farming practices and implement different things.  
We were given an opportunity when we were very young to get into farming. We had the family backing so we’re very appreciative of the family support. Even though Sam and I went out on our own and bought our own farm, to be able to have that succession planning with the younger generation is a really good move for the future.  

With sustainable practice change at the forefront, the resilience and determination of farmers like Bessie and Sam paves the way for a thriving industry in the years to come.


  • Husband and wife cane farming team Sam and Bessie Orr are generational farmers with a property in Proserpine. They manage their workload by dividing up some tasks, like harvesting and bookkeeping and sharing others such as irrigation, as well as work with a local harvesting company as another revenue stream.
  • Innovative methods have helped the Orrs meet best practices, work towards sustainability, and increase productivity. Some areas they have improved include around irrigation, yield monitoring, weather mapping, nutrient management, and record keeping.
  • Bessie is the President of Young Farmers Proserpine and is passionate about supporting young farmers through involving them in the industry and proactive succession planning.