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Beyond the Bale : March 2014
September 2010 BEYOND THE BALE March 2014 BEYOND THE BALE 26 ON-FARM Veteran Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) agronomist Harm van Rees believes a livestock revolution is beginning in marginal cropping country. “I’m not convinced that 100 per cent crop is the right thing to do in a highly variable climate. The total reliance on herbicides is just not sustainable, not to mention the significant risk advantage a sheep enterprise offers farmers in country like the Mallee, with less than 400mm annual rainfall,” he said. The comment has great resonance even within the BCG as it comes from a man who has spent a lifetime trialling crops and rotations, herbicides and nutrients; much of it with one of the most progressive farming groups in the country. “Cropping has come a very long way in the past two decades but I have to say I think there is a livestock revolution underway in some areas where rainfall is highly variable and rotations are limited to wheat, barley and canola. I know there are also those who have moved into hay production particularly in WA but that doesn’t suit everyone either as you have to be close to markets.” While input costs for all agricultural pursuits have risen, Harm says some croppers are now spending $300-400/ ha in the Victorian Mallee, an environment known for its severe droughts. He says it is here where the financial sustainability of such enterprises is highly questionable. To satisfy a latent interest in sheep, BCG currently has four AWI-funded BESTWOOL/ BESTLAMB groups and last year held a dedicated sheep management field day to highlight innovations such as automatic weighing and drafting technology. BCG Livestock Co-ordinator Dannielle McMillan agreed there were many croppers looking at sheep again but the FAST FACTS l Cropping thought leaders predict a resurgence of sheep as a risk management strategy in low rainfall zone areas due the high input costs of cropping and the risks of variable seasonal conditions. l The many croppers looking at sheep again can help build their livestock and wool knowledge through AWI state extension networks such as the AWI-funded BESTWOOL/BESTLAMB groups in Victoria. l While introducing livestock would involve on-farm infrastructure costs for producers, the transition can be made easier through the use of new technology. Livestock revolution in marginal cropping country John Ferrier (right), with his son David, on his property in the Mallee region of Victoria: “Sheep and cropping go hand in hand from both a production and financial perspective.”