Progressive farming on tour

By Simone Dunne

A group of 17 Gippsland dairy farmers recently returned from a four-day tour of the Bega Valley after visiting progressive farmers developing high performing pastures and farm operations.

The tour, organised by Notman Pasture Seeds, developed opportunities to engage and learn from fellow dairy farmers in the Bega Valley, visiting leading dairy and fodder operations, networking with Dairy Australia, Far South Coast Development Group, Bega Cheese and Rabobank representatives.

While the current challenging dairy economics were present in most conversations, the group was keen to pick-up farming developments translatable to operations in Gippsland.

The group visited the Ken Kimber’s sustainable large-scale lucerne and Pioneer maize fodder farm at Chakola which supports their 1200 cows at Bega.

On the way north, the group called at Trevor Platt’s Fulham farm where it learnt of his passion for developing dryland into productive irrigated pastures.

Mr Platt has developed blocks to grow crops including sorghum, which provides a more secure feed for his dairy farm.

The group also saw Richard and Debbie Platts’ operation which optimised daily nutrition and hygiene with automated calf feeding and housing.

One Gippsland farmer remarked that a common thread with all involved was minimising feed costs by planting persistent high performing grasses to maximise the dry matter grown per hectare.

Like so many operations in Gippsland, Bega Valley farmers have adopted new pasture technologies that respond well to fertiliser applications, and bounce back well after hard grazings and drier conditions.

Notman seeds proprietor Peter Notman said the tour concluded with pasture and summer cropping dryland/irrigation operations of ex-Gippsland dairy farmers Mick and Ancret Shipton at Bemboka, and popular couple Ian ‘Toad’ and Mandy Heffernan at Kanoona who featured on House Rules in 2018.

“It was great to hear from Bega Valley dairy farmers on how they tackle local conditions and how this helps grow their own businesses to succeed,”’ Peter said.

The tours are run biennially.

A Bega farmer told the visitors that varieties that have performed well in Gippsland had also done so in the Bega Valley with Bullet Annual Rye-grass and Vibe Italian Rye-grass carrying pasture quality longer into spring and had been persistent even under harsh management conditions.

Pressure was evident from dominant species on the moderately fertile soils in the Bega Valley including kikuyu and love grass, which were managed with intensive stocking and rotational crops such as forage rape and millet.

Yanakie dairy farmer Rob Mortlock was impressed with the way the Bega farmers could grow fodder so well with different grass species.

“It was interesting to see Ken Kimber’s Cooma block which was a former vegetable market garden property where they were growing up to 16t of dry matter per hectare and selling about 60 per cent externally.

“Ken Kimber’s farm was a very good set up.”

Other highlights were the calf rearing operation of Richard and Debbie Platt. Where Debbie raised about 350 calves on the automated system.

He noted the popularity of direct drilling in pastures.

They also visited a young couple who were developing their farm operation on leased land.