A privately owned company has been snapping up dairy farms in the Murray Valley region, with a view on climate, soil quality, infrastructure and global opportunities.
goFARM has bought about a dozen dairy farms in the past 15 months, with so-called hubs at Yalca, Katunga and Cobram.
goFARM’s managing director Liam Lenaghan explained the reason for buying land in the Murray Valley.
“I guess we’ve got a global view on food production and dietary trends and the need for more plant-based food crops and we have exposure in other regions, including Sunraysia and the Riverland,” Mr Lenaghan said.
“It’s pretty well documented, the water security and deliverability risks below the choke, and our view is that those issues are negated by being above the choke.
“The region has good water delivery infrastructure, it has a mix of soils, it’s got a great climate … and of course there is the pre-existing infrastructure.
“It’s got relatively closely settled farming communities and large regional centres supporting infrastructure that goes with it — in terms of agriculture support but then more broadly the social infrastructure around people and schools and hospitals, which ultimately are required when you need people in production systems.
“There’s a lot to like about the region but challenges too, like anywhere.”
While long-term plans are yet to be set, the company is leasing 75 per cent of the land it currently owns back to the dairy and beef industries, while growing corn on the properties it has not leased out.
“The lease arrangements are part of buying us the time and head space we need to do the planning and getting ourselves organised and make decisions around soils, amelioration and ultimately crop type,” the company’s chief farming officer Nick Raleigh said.
“In the instance of the farms that are under our control, we are already embarking on an annual cropping program of summer and winter crops.
“The summer crop of our choice is corn.
“That’s what we think works both from a revenue point of view and the ability to ameliorate soils where we deem that’s necessary.
“Ultimately our plan is to develop to high value horticulture-type crops.
“For us that equates to nut crops and fruit crops but we haven’t made a final decision.
“We have some favourites, we have some that we are more attracted to from a labour, a perishability and an automation and mechanisation point of view.”
Mr Raleigh said an example of one of those crops was walnuts.
“We think that suits the region for a whole range of different factors,” he said.
Mr Lenaghan said it was likely to be a mix of crops they would grow, rather than just one.
“Ultimately given the range, or the variability, of soil types in the region I think it will be a matrix or mosaic of different crops,” he said.
“It’s not going to be a mono-culture from one end to the other of one crop; it will be horses for courses based on soil types and access to other infrastructure.”
Mr Lenaghan said the farms they had purchased all had entitlements attached.
“We are buying farms with existing entitlements and those entitlements are across a spectrum including high-reliability water shares, low-reliability water shares, Katunga Deep Lead and Shepparton irrigation region water too.”
goFarm was founded by Mr Lenaghan seven years ago. It is owned by his family as well as one other family.
Both Mr Lenaghan and Mr Raleigh are ag-science trained, with Mr Lenaghan a fifth-generation farmer.
Mr Raleigh is the former general manager of field operations at Kagome and grew up on the family farm in the Goulburn Valley.