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Beyond the Bale : September 2019
40 ON FARM Meet three southern NSW farmers that we've been tracking for more than four years – and learn how sheep are adding notable value to their mixed farming enterprises. CROPS, RUMPS AND WOOLLY JUMPERS Three mixed farmers from southern NSW feature in a new video series ‘Crops, Rumps and Woolly Jumpers’ examining the challenges and benefits of adding sheep to their farming enterprises. The short film series was launched by AWI’s grower network Sheep Connect NSW in front of 180 farmers and researchers at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation’s Livestock Forum in Wagga Wagga in July. The series is a collaboration between Sheep Connect NSW, the Graham Centre and the NSW Department of Primary Industries. This is the second ‘Crops, Rumps and Woolly Jumpers’ series; the first series was released in 2012. “I f you’d asked me about sheep five years ago, I would have said they were hard work and wouldn’t fit within our farming system,” Murray said. “But in 2014 we began considering if sheep could add value to our existing dryland cropping and beef enterprise by allowing for winter crop grazing and providing another option to help control herbicide resistant ryegrass.” Murray said the decision was carefully considered with a clear set of goals in mind. “We made the decision that if we were going to go into sheep we were going to do it properly. The new enterprise needed to fit into our existing operations without causing compromises that would have an impact on total farm profitability. “An important thing that we’ve found very useful has been doing an AWI Lifetime Ewe Management course and it’s been extremely helpful for us to learn about exactly how the sheep system works and for condition score information. “Importantly we made the decision to invest in a new set of sheep yards knowing that poor infrastructure makes tasks difficult, and that was something we didn’t want in this new enterprise.” Mr Scholz said the farming mix has evolved over time to include more lucerne and grazing crops, narrower row spacing, and more recently the use of cover crops. “Making a change can mean stepping out of a comfort zone and adding challenges to the decision making. But in our experience, incorporating a sheep enterprise has been very successful and we have found more synergies between cropping and sheep than between cropping and cattle.” Re-introducing sheep to their mixed-farming enterprise was a daunting prospect for Culcairn-based farmer Murray Scholz but the decision has reduced risk, increased profits and helped their cropping enterprise to be more sustainable. MURRAY AND EMMA SCHOLZ, CULCAIRN RUPERT AND CLARE MCLAREN, BARMEDMAN “W e’ve gone from being almost continuous cropping 90% of the enterprise, to 70% cropping and 30% livestock. We had to change our enterprise because we hit a wall and we could no longer control the weeds in our cropping, whereas the sheep provided stability and have recently proved to be very financially rewarding,” says Rupert. “Over the 2012-16 period, the cropping areas have remained static but the sheep numbers have almost doubled and the area under- sown with the view to going out to pasture has almost tripled. “I've grown to love my Merino wethers. They are simple to run, they fit into my enterprise and they are as tough as old boots. It suits our overall operation because we have multiple enterprises and they have to link together.” The McLarens have started to invest a lot more in their sheep enterprise: fencing, yards, but the big-ticket item has been a new shearing shed. “I wouldn't regard that it is a luxury, I would regard that as a prudent business investment,” Rupert said. Clare says that cost control is something that’s very much ongoing, because you can’t control anything else essentially. Barmedman farmer Rupert McLaren, who with his wife Clare runs run a little over five thousand Merino wethers and crops about two thousand hectares of mainly wheat and canola, says in the years from 2012-16 they almost doubled the number of sheep in their family farming operation. “Farmers are always at the mercy of the elements. You don't know what your yields are going to be, you don't know what the price at harvest is going to be, but as you're going along through the year you know how much you can spend so you’ve just got to keep focused on costs.”
In the Shops - September 2019