Embracing technology a family trait

By Geoff Adams

TECHNOLOGY HAS been a recurring theme for the seven generations of the Russell family.

More than 135 years ago their pioneering ancestor, Daniel Gowing, worked the scenic Bega Valley with an innovative steam powered plough.

Now descendant William Russell has an ambition to ramp up technology on the 242ha dairy farm, which straddles the main road on the gentle hills between Bega and Tathra.

He has already used soil moisture monitoring to push yields higher in maize growing and has plans to implement further change.

Will grew up on the Jelgowry property with his sisters and parents Rob and Pip, but left to pursue a career in engineering and has now returned to the farm, where he concentrates on the pastures and cropping while his dad manages the herd.

The farm is powered by a herd of about 300 mostly Illawarra cows, calving right through the year, which provides a flat production line and generates about 2.25 million litres annually or about 6600 litres/cow.

The property has a historical association with the red breed but over the years the herd became dominated by Jerseys.

When the farm gained access to the Sydney and Canberra liquid milk markets with less emphasis on fat and protein, Rob said they moved back to the Illawarras.

“I don’t have a particular issue with any breed; but I have a strong belief in using different breeds for different reasons, and the Illawarras are good for us.’’

Although mostly self-sufficient in fodder about 40 per cent of their dry matter diet is bought in.

The cows graze pasture with a Kikuyu base oversown with annual rye grass and home-grown silage is mostly maize and lucerne.

They feed about six to seven kilograms of bought in concentrates in the dairy which works out at about two tonne/cow/year.

He uses the web-based DairyBase software to measure and compare the farm business performance over time.

The 104ha of irrigated land is supplied from an 800Ml allocation from the Brogo dam, and irrigation comes through centre pivot (25ha), sprinklers (24ha), K-line pods (5ha) and hard hose (50ha).

The remote soil moisture sensor gives Will an objective guide on irrigation timing.

“The thing with irrigation is that it’s one more job that you don’t want to do until you have to, so there is a tendency to put it off. This tells you when the crop needs it,” Will said.

Their last Pacific 624 maize crop yielded about 23 dm tonne/ha which was better than they have been able to achieve previously.

The family has trialled a software pasture management program and then intend to implement it this summer to improve paddock performance and to produce better quality silage.

Will has one eye on robotic milking but there is a complication which mitigates against adoption of the technology at the moment.

The farm is split by a busy main road and that complicates cows volunteering for an automated milking system.

Will is wrestling with that issue, but in the meantime is wanting to implement a cow ID system, and a paddock management software.

The farm employs two full-time staff.

With such an enduring family heritage, there has been a need to talk about family succession and Will is happy that discussions have been open and frank.

Rob and Pip will be looking to wind down their working hours, but still want to remain involved.

Will has found his engineering background and experience working at Bega Cheese to be useful in managing a farm.

For a number of years, his job involved continuous improvement on a new line and that meant examining data to gain improved outcomes or better labour efficiency.

“You try to chip away at it, and get better at what you are doing. That’s what I am trying to do,’’ he said.