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Beyond the Bale : Jun 07 - Jul 07
By Brad Collis Rob Egerton-Warburton works his farm hard, driving its grazing capacity to the maximum. With tightening margins, he says there is no choice but to keep pushing the productivity boundaries, which in his case means sustained, intensive grazing. However, this is no rapacious use of the land. Rather, the management strategy is pursuing an increase in wool production from less land actually devoted to sheep. Rob's production goals are being built on an environmental management program that is returning 20 per cent of the farm to commercial trees and agroforestry. The consequence of this is a reallocation of resources to the best land for pastures and crops. The outcome is rising production, despite a reduced area being farmed. A high -- and increasing -- stocking rate of 17 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) per hectare is set by the amount and quality of feed, and this comes from substantially improved pastures, supplemented by crop stubble. "Basically, we are not going to make money producing 30 kilograms of wool per hectare per year," Rob says. "We need to be producing 60 to 80kg/ha/year. "When wool hit $2.50/kg greasy in 1996 it was half of what we needed. That's when half of our farm went into crops. It was a business decision based on what the land has to earn." Rob, who farms near Kojonup, WA, with his wife Jennifer -- who adds an agricultural science background to the decision-making mix -- describes their wool-growing today as based on sustained, intensive grazing with commercial and environmental sustainability the clear business objectives. Their 2400 hectares are home to a self-replacing Merino flock on half the arable area, while the rest has been turned over to canola, wheat and barley. Contrary to what might have been expected, Rob says the move into cropping has had the effect of intensifying and increasing their wool production, largely because cropping taught them how to grow better pastures, which are the basis of the more intensive grazing regime. The whole process was started by segmenting the property into its different production capacities to determine which parts were actually producing the income. The unproductive areas have now been turned over to an outside commercial tree-planting venture. The trees have been grown in belts separated by lanes large enough to take two passes of a sprayer, in the expectation that over time the trees may help to invigorate those soils. Added to this environmental initiative is the revegetation of all the creek lines -- generously so, extending 50 to 80 metres out from the actual creeks. "The transformation has been extraordinary," Rob says. "The wildlife and birdlife that has come back to the farm is fantastic. The water in the streams is fresher and we have a natural supply of insect predators. Above all, it has made the farm a very nice place to live." But such environmental investments have to be paid for, and the profit driver Growth from intensive grazing A Western Australian woolgrower explains how he is intensifying his land management to increase productivity of both the farmed and un-farmed parts of his property 8FARM MANAGEMENT BEYOND THE BALE Tree-belts have been planted by Rob and Jennifer Egerton- Warburton to improve the productivity of marginal land and to arrest a rising water table.The space is wide enough for two passes of a seeder so the strips can also be cropped. PHOTOS: BRAD COLLIS
Jun 07 - Jul 07 Supplement
Apr 07 - May 07