Victoria’s dairy industry has scale and history, but Tasmania has new irrigation water and new investment - which is why a Westpac-sponsored group of innovative Victorian farmers recently travelled across Bass Strait.
Twelve members of the Red Sky Dairy Group, which has a footprint across south-west Victoria, went to Tasmania to assess the developments underway in the island’s reinvigorated dairy sector.
Tasmania’s dairy industry is undergoing a boom made possible by the release of large new irrigation licences, the first in Australia for years.
Water means money, and money encourages innovation – which is why Westpac Agribusiness has chosen to partner with Red Sky Dairy Group.
Westpac is committed to supporting innovation and technology in developing industry and business and sees it as a vital ingredient to the sector’s ongoing performance.
“Agriculture is in a constant state of evolution, and the best returns come from being on the forward curve of that evolutionary process,” Westpac’s Agribusiness regional general manager for Victoria and Tasmania Roddy Brown said.
“This was an opportunity to put together people from two progressive dairy sectors at different stages in their growth, to see what sort of cross-fertilisation of ideas might occur.
“We’re coming out of last year’s milk price slump in 2016.
"Global milk supply has corrected, and we’d hope to see a sustained lift in prices in 2017.
"That means there is not only more scope to invest in farm development but there is also renewed optimism, resulting in us witnessing a generational shift with asset transitions.
"We thought it was timely to support this fact-finding tour.”
Among those keen to see the developments in Tasmania were Mark and Tania Nevill, who milk 650 cows at Mepunga, Vic, and are in a partnership milking another 600 at Cobram, Vic.
“We saw a bit of everything — dairy, mixed cropping — and a lot of what we saw is impressive and exciting,” Mr Nevill said.
“I appreciate the honesty of the blokes who are out on the edge.
"Ian Dornauf, who has Australia’s first robotic rotary dairy, was really up-front about the issues.
"Someone always has to be first with a technology, and it’s helpful to us all when they are able to give a warts-and-all breakdown of their experiences.”
That appreciation was shared by another tour participant, Eddie Kenna, who milks 700-750 cows on a mostly dryland operation at The Sisters.
And both farmers intend to keep a close watch on developments of the variable-rate technologies demonstrated by Robbie Tole at “Greenvale”.
Mr Nevill is holding back for now, concerned that iron bacteria in his water will interfere with a variable-rate irrigation system’s solenoids, while the district does not yet have a variable-rate equipped spreader contractor.
Mr Kenna’s interest is more immediate.
He was intrigued by the potential, illustrated at Greenvale, of using drones to map his farm to provide a baseline for further investment.
“After a couple of years of drought and volatile milk prices, our aim is to start building more resilience into the operation,” Mr Kenna said.
“We’re building a hay shed so we can buy in feed when it’s cheap, and better farm maps will help us more cost-effectively target fertiliser and other inputs, even without using variable-rate machinery.”
Mr Brown said the tour achieved its goal of introducing the Victorian farmers to some new management options.
“Perhaps most importantly, they were able to see first-hand whether those options fitted into their operations,” he said.
“Often, they didn’t, perhaps not yet — but understanding that what you’re doing is OK is as important as knowing where things can be improved.
"We understand the importance of being profitable in business and the drivers and leavers to influence, and we look forward to working with Mr Kenna and Mr Nevill to develop their business models.”