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Farmers find greener pastures in Tassies

By Dairy News

FOR YEARS, Kiwis have been crossing the Tasman to try their hand at Australian dairy farming, now there are a few Victorians who have decided to cross Bass Strait for greener pastures in Tasmania.

They may be partly responsible for Tasmania bucking the national trend in milk supply – Tassie has increased its milk production in the last year while the mainland figures have been reducing.

Adam Waasdorp moved from northern Victoria two years ago to Gawler near Ulverstone in Tasmania and hasn’t regretted the move.

He’s milking just 130 cows, but has expanded his farming to include growing potatoes, poppies and pyrethrum.

DairyTas regional manager Jonathan Price said there was a significant increase in the number of corporate farm purchases in Tasmania in the last 18 months.

Tasmania’s milk supply had increased by 9.5 per cent in the last financial year and so far this year, production was up by about four per cent.

He put the interest in Tasmanian farming down to the natural climate and lost cost of production, coupled with the advantages of a pasture-based system.

Adam was born and grew up in the Waaia district north west of Shepparton and farmed for more than 20 years, eventually getting his own property, but the weather and the water issues wore him down.

"We had enough water, with the groundwater and we owned permanent water; but the fees were just excessive."

Water politics also played a part in his decision to move.

He said while farmers paid to maintain the irrigation system, investors could own water and contribute less.

"It was just getting worse and worse,” Adam said.

"And the weather could be extreme; from minimum temperatures to what you are getting up there (Goulburn Valley) at the moment,” he said, referring to the series of 40-plus days experienced in January.

"Here, not far from the coast, it’s a little more constant.

"And it seems that there were little choices; it was be a dairy farmer, beef farmer or grain farmer."

His venture into potato growing has paid off and he notes the 16ha in spuds has earned him a better return in one season than his dairy operation.

On the volcanic soil and with good spring rains, he can make hay and silage right up to Christmas.

Adam moved over about 100 cows and some basic machinery and he admits it was expensive, but not as costly as some people might think.

"I'd call it short-term pain, for long-term gain,'' he said.

But it rains on at least 100 days of the year on average in northern Tasmania and Adam has decided he is not milking the cows through winter.

Just over the ranges, it snows in winter.

Water lures family back to Tasmania

The last week in January was an average one for Tasmanian dairy farmer Damien Carpenter; he had just finished making hay, was preparing to harvest his vegetables and was getting ready for calving in February.

About four years ago Damien, his wife Natalie and their two boys moved back to a Tasmanian farm after spending 18 years in northern Victoria.

“We got together for a Christmas Eve celebration and there were about eight of us who had moved down to Tassie,” Damien said.

They have returned to a high rainfall area in northern Tasmania just a few kilometres from the coast, where they use spray irrigation to supplement the natural rainfall and grow a wide variety of crops, including potatoes.

Damien is enjoying an extended growing season and lower production costs. The downside is higher land prices, wet winters and the wind.

Damien grew up in northern Tasmania with a farming family but started work as an agronomist. When he first entered the industry the wages for agronomists were tiny in Tasmania so he and Natalie moved to northern Victoria where he worked until they could buy their own farm in 2005.

They bought a rundown property of about 160 ha without water on the Broken River near Numurkah, starting off with about 180 cows.

Although they made progress in the business, water prices were a constant issue in the background, and with a dry season looming in 2015, they made the decision to move to Tasmania.

Many more farmers were operating without holding permanent water and Damien could see change coming.

“I thought this is just not sustainable, so we decided to move before our operating costs started eating into our equity,” he said.

“No matter what the milk price is, the costs of production were still too high.

“I could see where the hay and grain and water prices were going. And it seemed there was always someone else prepared to pay more than me.

“We sat down with (farm adviser) Phil Shannon and did the numbers, then we moved.”

He considers the move has been worthwhile, despite the heavy costs of moving a young herd and the family dislocation.

“We still have friends in Victoria and we frequently travel back there.”

They are now farming at Cuprona, not far from Burnie, and within sight of Bass Strait on a 64 ha home property, and utilising extra leased blocks.

He has access to a community irrigation scheme based around dammed water, which costs about $163/Ml, but the scheme members are hoping it will soon drop back to about $120/Ml.

Like most farmers in the region they use spray irrigators.