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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
By Emma leonard A lthough today he is a passionate advocate for the Australian Merino, less than three years ago Miles Cockington was considering leaving the wool industry, disillusioned about its future. However, his enthusiasm was revived after he gained a place on Course 13 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP). The course not only revived his enthusiasm but has helped him turn business ideas into reality. The ARLP is an 18-month course, run for up to 35 people, every year. In that time there are 60 contact days including an overseas trip. Participants are challenged and provided with training in business and marketing skills. For Miles, the greatest rewards from the ARLP were that the course helped him learn more about himself, improved his ability to make big decisions and introduced him to a network of like-minded people. For the past 25 years, Miles has run ‘Redcliffe Station’, near Burra in South Australia. The property was bought by his father and on leaving school Miles became a first- generation farmer with a steep learning curve ahead of him. Over the past 10 years the station has suffered from drought, so to provide some feed security and business diversity Miles and his wife Allyson bought her family farm near Port Vincent on the Yorke Peninsula. At ‘Redcliffe’ the Merino flock produced medium wool, but body growth rates were restricted by pastoral seasons. The idea behind buying the property further south was to grow wool at ‘Redcliffe’ and finish lambs on the Yorke Peninsula. The overall aspiration was to stop being a price taker and to develop a more integrated business in which Miles felt he had some control over the end product. “I wanted to produce high-quality wool and good growth rates from the same sheep, but the traditional Merino was not able to deliver,” he says. Miles considered how he could produce a more adaptable, dual-purpose breed that had the best attributes of the Merino and meat breeds. To achieve this he felt he needed to deconstruct the current Merino and rebuild its genetics. Miles turned to the heritage breeds for the genetics he wanted. Crossing these bloodlines with Merinos he has now produced sheep that meet his criteria, and the bonus is they are wrinkle free, removing the need to mules. However, despite this progress, Miles felt he was still “just a cocky with some exceptional sheep”. To turn these improved, dual-purpose animals into a business venture he needed more skills and more support. “I was encouraged to apply for the ARLP and it provided the springboard I needed,” he says. Miles’ enthusiasm about the ARLP is contagious. He explains how they were thrown in at the deep end with 10 days in the Kimberley. Having lived on a station he was used to isolation and being self-reliant, but this part of the program required him to work as a team, not as an individual. “The challenges made me think more clearly about what I wanted and needed, and stopped me taking things for granted.” Miles discovered that he works well in a team with complementary skills, and he enjoyed the range of people on the course and the networks he has built. On Course 13 the participants ranged in age from 27 to over 50. There were three rural doctors and a dentist, bankers, a futures trader, livestock agent, abattoir manager and people from the timber industry, local government, tourism and marketing, child welfare and education. Seven participants in Course 13 have been especially important to Miles as they have helped him develop his business ideas by providing specific skills in genetics, trade marking and marketing, and two have become business partners. With these partners, Miles has launched the re-made Australian Merino he bred as the Mastar Merino™. Miles explains that “as it was developed in the semi-arid pastoral zone, the Mastar Merino™ has produced an animal with the constitution to cope with all Australian environments. “It is an easy, carefree-growing animal, with a large frame and high fecundity, with no need for mulesing, but with Merino’s wool attributes.” Miles believes the Mastar Merino™, which is now in the third generation of pure-bred animals, is a Merino that will help the Australian wool industry meet the requirements currently set out for post-2010. Miles is planning a new wool-marketing scheme to capitalise on the production of Merino wool from sheep that have not been mulesed. Applications for Course 16 of the ARLP are now open; they close on 31 July. ú More information: australian Rural leadership Program, www.rural-leaders.com.au discovery of team skills leads to new Merino ventures Australian Rural Leadership Program graduate Miles cockington found the program re-ignited his passion for the sheep industry and has enabled him to turn business ideas into reality 13 EducATIoN BEyoNd thE BalE Miles cockington’s participation in the Australian Rural Leadership Program has helped him take his breed – a dual-purpose, no-mulesing Merino suited to all Australian environments – to market. PhoTo: EMMA LEoNARd
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08