The dairy Phil Ryan bought had a proud tradition supplying milk to Bega Cheese continuously since 1899. But when Phil, his late father and his brother arrived at “Hill Grove”, 210ha, south-west of Bega in 2007, they were confronted by an ugly scene of lovegrass dominated pastures.
Some of it reached over six feet high on the slopes at Hill Grove. The former Sydney IT specialist didn’t need much economic nous to improve his farm’s milk production: the lovegrass had to be burnt.
Some locals looked on in horror as flames leapt high in the in the air on the first burning as the Ryans moved to make Hill Grove profitable and take it back to its former glory. Persist they did as the farm slowly soaked up their money reserves. They’d also entered dairying in the middle of the district’s bad drought. The Ryans had some background in beef cattle, but dairying was a whole new ball game. Eventually Phil bought his father and brother out. It was hard and difficult times, but now Phil can look over the green ryegrass fields of Hill Grove with some pride.
Before he started on the lovegrass the farm was producing 5100 litres of milk a week. By November 2010, it was producing 11,000 litres of milk a week, and by November this year, Mr Ryan can proudly boast he delivered 32,000 litres to Bega, from his 175 dairy cows.
The money is still flying out the door but luckily he has some other off farm income. He is proud the changes he foresaw on Hill Grove are bearing fruit - and he’s still spot-spraying resurgent lovegrass.
Moss Vale agronomist Neil Moss was consulted by the Ryans when they first kicked off at Hill Grove setting their agronomy tasks, including soil fertility, plant species, selection for annual sowing and rates of fertiliser application.
Not only did the Ryans attack the high lovegrass but they also had an understorey of fireweed. They burnt and sprayed the lovegrass out, and then resowed the paddocks with oats, ryegrass and legumes. He also uses a regime of 25 per cent kikuyu with an annual ryegrass oversow. He makes his own silage now and had three cuts this year. He operates in a slight rain shadow near Candelo. His herd is one-third Holstein, one-third crossbred and one-third Jersey. Despite just drawing even on his investment he is looking at the long-term at making Hill Grove profitable. “I just love what I am doing. Our target is to produce 1.5 million litres of milk this year,” he said. “The farm is looking a lot better and I’m down to just spot spraying lovegrass now,” he said.