Farm’s focus is on saving water

By Stephen Cooke

NEIL GANNON’S dairy farm has been owned by his family for 140 years but the times are definitely changing.

Mr Gannon and his wife, Keryn, currently milk 500 cows on 267 ha at Tinamba in Gippsland. They recently signed up to be a GippsDairy Focus Farm.

“We’ve thought about Focus Farms for a few years and thought it would be interesting to get other ideas,” he said.

“With the dry times, and the loss of Murray Goulburn, it made me think we needed to focus on what we need to do to survive.

“The last two years, since Murray Goulburn management tuned us up, have been very dry and very hard going.”

They also want to focus on their finances and financial reporting so they can target the right information when making decisions.

“We’ll get other people’s input into the business and will be able to compare how we’re travelling,” Mr Gannon said.

The Gannons have been involved in the Boisdale Newry discussion group for the past seven years but the Focus Farm concept will mean they open every aspect of their business for discussion.

“Showing everything was off-putting for a while,” he admits. “After discussing involvement with other focus farmers, they said it was very beneficial to them so that encouraged us to have a go.”

The Gannons irrigate 210 ha of pasture for grazing and silage each year and are reliant on the Glenmaggie Weir to spill. Although it generally spills nine out of ten years, Mr Gannon is aware this may not be the case in the future.

“We try to do all our silage and hay on farm. This year there was no silage because Saputo didn’t make their decision (to buy MG) until October 21 and we had to make our decision to purchase water before then.”

They have had their farm irrigation system upgraded as part of the local irrigation modernisation project through Southern Rural Water. This included 2km of internal pipeline installed on farm. They are keen to make sure they utilise irrigation as efficiently as possible.

“The first irrigation was very efficient with an even delivery of water,” Mr Gannon said. “It’s easy to manage and provides flexibility of timing with automatic start and stop.”

The modernisation scheme means the Gannons will gain land from the disused channels, which will be filled in.

They used to milk year-round but changed back to calving once a year about five years ago.

“We thought we were doing the right thing, joining empty cows and taking them through. We made the decision to improve the fertility of the herd, which has freed up a bit of time,” Mr Gannon said.

“We tried autumn calving but couldn’t make it work. We usually get a spring here but don’t always get an autumn.”

They are continuing to work on fertility through a cross-breeding program.

They have introduced red genetics into their Friesian-Jersey herd, with their first calves on the ground now.

“We were chasing that hybrid vigour to improve our fertility,” he said.

The herd averaged 410kg milk solids last year, which was lower than average due to a tough season.

They are also investigating and introducing more water-efficient pastures, including Hummer fescue. “We introduced that 18 months ago and it has certainly been more water efficient.”

They are also investigating adding more reuse dams as water becomes a greater issue.

One of the keys to joining the Focus Farm project is not just to shine the spotlight on their farm practices, but also on themselves.

“We hope putting systems in place will free up a bit of time for ourselves as well,” Mr Gannon said.