Kevin's photographs - David's report will be added when the newsletter is published later this month.
Link to 'The Big Dry' article - ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2018-07-29/the-big-dry-see-us-hear-us-help-us/10030010
Carole Marple, Benalla resident and one time Labour Party politician in the Victorian parliament, told us about her political career at our July meeting.
Carole said her introduction to politics was prompted by her mother telling her she could meet nice boys if she went to Young Liberals meetings. But Carole said after one visit, she got the impression that all they did was drink and play around.
As a new teacher Carole described becoming concerned about class sizes of 50 children and not receiving the same pay as new male teachers. Carole joined the Victorian Teachers' Union and soon found most of her friends belonged to the Australian Labor Party and she joined too.
In due course Carole’s father died and her mother decided to cut up the family farm on the Goomalibee Road. Carole had by then become quite involved in the ALP.
Carole and her husband Godfrey decided to move to Melbourne, where Godfrey had a job in the wool industry, after Carole was appointed to the Noxious Weeds Board by Joan Kirner. While at the Noxious Weeds Board Carole was instrumental in the development of the Land Care Program.
Finding herself living in the new seat of Altona, Carole decided to fight for the position of ALP candidate. She took it on and won.
Eventually Leader of the Opposition John Brumby asked Carole to be shadow minister for agriculture and in that role Carole travelled round the state, largely to Victorian Farmers Federation meetings. Partly because the minister in power was not happy about it and partly because she left her handbag behind, she remembers opening an agricultural show in the Mallee. Not a lot of those though.
Carole was the first female in the shadow agriculture role and while the ALP was not hugely popular in country areas, some farmers, probably more inclined towards the coalition, “were supporting me because I was a woman having a go”. Quite often farmers said they seldom saw Carole in the countryside but Carole said “the reason was they never asked me”.
Representing the country side as a woman in the Labor party gave Carole great satisfaction. Carole said the aspect of being a politician she really liked was making speeches in parliament. "I loved the to and fro of it," she said.
After Carole lost the seat of Altona, largely because of factional fighting, she left the ALP for a while in disgust. But because many of her Benalla friends were in it, she later rejoined.
The next Stock and Land speaker, on Tuesday August 7, will be Devenish farmer and silo art visionary, Kevin Mitchell.
Sue Campbell spoke at our June meeting about turning a rabbit infested farm at Byawatha, north east of Wangaratta, into a viable farm. Sue and husband Sandy took over what was known as the rabbit farm in the early 1960s when it was carrying just half a dry sheep equivalent (DSE) to the hectare.
The farm had been denuded of trees to fuel tin mining at Eldorado which exposed the fragile, light, decomposed granite soil and made it even more vulnerable to rabbits. Even driving over parts of the property was impossible because vehicles crumbled the rabbit warrens.
The Campbells shot, poisoned, blew up, netted and dogged rabbits for 40 years while planting about one million trees and improved pasture species and ripping Yeomans style on the contour, across the 600 acre property. In one early year they laid just short of 100km of 1080 poison trails and Sue remembered the "disgusting smell" of dead rabbits.
In so doing - going from the worst to the best farm in the district - they increased the carrying capacity to about eight DSEs per hectare. So in retrospect "several neighbours wished they'd done what we did," Sue said
Sue's interest in rabbits continues as she monitors the impact of the latest K5 virus in keeping rabbit numbers under control. She said she had not seen rabbits on their present farm on the Broken River for at least two months. "But it is hard to tell rabbit from platypus burrows on the banks of the Broken," she said.
Sue said it was important that urban people and particularly migrants, understand the impact rabbits can have when numbers increase. "They need to be as aware as we in the country are," she said.
During the session Sue drew our attention to this most informative website - www.pestsmart.org.au/pest-animal-species/european-rabbit/ and provided links to the following interviews with Sue and with farmer David Lord which we watched together.
Our speaker for July, will be former Labor member of the Victorian Parliament Carole Marple, who will talk about life as the shadow minister of agriculture. Carole's talk will be followed by the sharing of stories about horses on farms. Horses hold almost legendary status on farms as vital working and social components of farm life over the years - we have heard stories from our ancestors and have stories of our own to share.
With the Middle East live sheep export scandal still making news, it was heartening for our group to visit a sheep enterprise where the livestock live long valued lives
Nine of our number visited the Toland poll Merino stud north west of Violet Town on May 1 and discovered that the Tolands keep some of their ewes producing lambs to an age of nine of 10, at a time when many sheep men cull their breeders when they are just five or six.
The Toland family, who run the enterprise, thanks to individual 15 digit electronic ear tags on every sheep, know how each sheep is bred and can tweak breeding and feeding strategies to maximise wool production and quality. The aim is to produce 18 micron wool.
Pregnant ewes were due to be scanned about two weeks after our visit with an important objective being able to draft ewes carrying twins into a separate mob so they could be fed more than those carrying singles. Between 40 and 50 per cent of mature ewes produce twins. That is about 750 ewes from the flock of about 1700.
But Phil Toland told the group, that with nutrition somewhat restricted by the lack so far of a real autumn break, he expected lambs to number about 2000 this year.
Generally sales of wool, rams and surplus sheep, each produce income of about $200,000 a year. About 200 rams average $1000 each while the average price of wool from each sheep is between $70 and $80. Surplus ewes sell for about $100 each.
The main part of the farm covers 1300 acres of largely flat heavy carrying country while there is 700 acres of hillier and lighter ironstone country, several kilometres to the north west where the Tolands run all of their young sheep.
Our June speaker will be member Sue Campbell, who with husband Sandy, for 34 years focussed on turning what was known as 'the rabbit farm' near Byawatha carrying half a sheep to the acre, into a much more viable one carrying about six sheep to the acre. They won the battle in 2003 when the 700 acre property, Cooloongatta, was declared rabbit free. Sue will talk about the battle and related issues on Tuesday June 5 at 10am.
Harvesting was the theme of two presentations to Stock and Land in April - harvesting agricultural radio audiences on one hand and sub. clover seed on the other.
Libby Price, former ABC broadcaster and editor of the Benalla Ensign and now editor and presenter on ACE commercial radio, described her work in the media while retired local farmer Lock Lidgerwood outlined the challenges of growing subterranean clover seed and harvesting it in hot dry conditions mid-summer.
Adelaide born Libby took to horses early and had a job lined up as groom to the 1980 Moscow Olympics equestrian team which fell apart when Australia boycotted the games. But she did similar work for several polo teams and still rides recreationally on a Benalla farm.
After Agricultural College, and at the third attempt, Libby joined the ABC's rural department and eventually worked on TV programs as well. She told the U3A group the main tool of radio recording was a Nagra tape recorder which reproduced sound beautifully but weighed 5kg. It was so heavy that job applicants were supposedly selected on the soundness of their backs. Nowadays Libby said, the ubiquitous iPhone did all the heavy lifting, including the ability to eliminate or subdue background noise.
Lock Lidgerwood grew up on a fairly typical wheat and sheep family farm at Devenish in the 1950s and 1960s. The difference was a significant investment by his father in sub. clover harvesting equipment. Because the seed is generally deposited underground, it must literally be dug up and separated from soil.
The advent of all-crop harvesters revolutionised the process and over his working lifetime he added significant equipment tweaks to make the process easier and more profitable.
Given the hot and dusty conditions of working machinery in high summer, fires and thirst were constant challenges. Not surprisingly, various strategically placed pubs featured in Loch's presentation.
Next month's Stock and Land will comprise a visit to the Toland family's Merino stud at Violet Town on May 1.
The newsletter report will be added later...
Sandy Leatham, who successfully ran Benalla’s Hook and Spoon butcher shop for about eight years, closed her business near the end of 2015 when she found out Prime Safe was introducing new handling guidelines for dry-aged beef.
She told the March Stock and Land U3A group that was the final straw. “I’d found them [the statutory authority designed to regulate the safety of meat, poultry and seafood across Victoria] very difficult to deal with and when I heard about the new guidelines I decided to close the shop.
“Prime Safe allowed restaurants to dry age but not me and introduced new guidelines without consultation”. The hanging process tenderises and intensifies the flavour; “the meat is more juicy and the flavour is stronger."
Sandy said some regulations were necessary but not the often extreme “Mafia like” measures resorted to by Prime Safe. At one time it was clear two large suited heavies were sent from Prime Safe to intimidate her. “A customer was so alarmed she stood between them and me,” Sandy said.
The beginning of her interest in direct selling farm produce, started in the late 1960s from a farm at Kingston, south of Hobart where she ran about 30 dairy cows. She packaged milk from the herd into half pint bottles which she delivered around Hobart.
Another business and four babies intervened until Sandy and her husband acquired a beautiful but quite rough 250ha farm at Warrenbayne. They bred Devon, Santa Gertrudis and Angus in a three way cross which produced small calves with hybrid vigour. The Leathams killed cattle at about 20 months yielding beef with desirable three to five scores for marbling.
“My interest was in producing healthy grass fed cattle and sheep, without resorting to supplemental grain, because grain alters the otherwise beneficial omega three fatty acids in meat,” she said.
Sandy and her husband initially had two cattle and six sheep killed each week. But the sheep dropped by the wayside because the Leathams reckoned to produce the best possible mutton, they would have had to irrigate.
For the first seven or so years of Hook and Spoon, Prime Safe assured Sandy that if she abided by local government regulations for meat preparation and sale their products would meet all health requirements.
“But then Prime Safe said it had to regulate Hook and Spoon, despite most of our meat being cooked.
Than started a raft of nonsensical requirements like checking the temperature of hams halfway.
Our guest speakers for April – Libby Price and Lach Lidgerwood; followed in early May by a visit to a local sheep property.
'From paddock to plate' entrepreneur Sandy Leatham pictured here with
Stock and Land convenors Kathy Murphy and David Palmer.
In the second half of our March session we weren't able to stream the Catalyst program - 'Farmer Needs a Robot' as the WIFI was very slow. We will download it on to a USB for use later, however it is still available on iview - check out http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/catalyst/SC1602H014S00 It is likely to be transferred to the Catalyst program page when its time on iview ceases.
Here are links to related videos from You Tube - we saw the first, but not the second.
Above: "The University of Sydney's Australian Centre for Field Robotics are pioneers when it comes to robotic farming. Having developed a series of driverless tractors, they give us a sneak peek of how future farms and orchards will operate in the era of mass automation".
Above: Robot farming machines are already doing the dirty work in more fields than people may realize.
Here are the links for the handouts David chose for today:
Top 10 Robotic Applications in the Agricultural Industry
Robot Controlled Harvesters Gather their First Crop
While livestock auctions are no longer regular fixtures of Benalla business life, up until the 1970s, agents yarded up to 20,000 cattle, 15,000 sheep, 7000 pigs and 1200 calves a year in the city’s yards, former stock and station agent Ray O’Shannessy told the inaugural Stock and Land U3A session on February 6.
In fact in the late 1950s, five times as many sheep, half as many pigs but only about one third the number of cattle were yarded on a yearly basis. New cattle saleyards were built in 1990 and regular sheep sales finished in the mid 1990s.
Benalla livestock sales started in 1860 at the corner of Bridge and Carrier Streets and in September 1888, 60,000 sheep were advertised for a quarterly sale. Ray, who worked for 16 years with Victorian Producers before becoming an accountant, said there were about 90 stock and station agents operating in Benalla over a century and a half; in his time, from 1950 to 1966, there were about nine. In 1942, the mid-point in the Benalla yard’s history, bullocks sold for about $60, wethers for $6 and lambs for $5. But that just indicates a point in time; prices leaped up and down before and after that.
A lively discussion followed on the reasons why sale yards such as the Benalla saleyards are gradually disappearing, although David noted that a new regional saleyard in his childhood town of Mortlake is set to invigorate the town.
At our next session on Tuesday March 6 at 10 am from paddock to plate entrepreneur Sandy Latham will explore the challenges faced in running the unique Benalla business ‘Hook and Spoon’.
About 'Stock and Land'
Are you a regular watcher of ‘Country Wide’ or reader of ‘Stock and Land’ or ‘The Weekly Times’? Did you grow up on, run, still run, or downshift into Benalla from a farm? Perhaps you studied/taught food and agriculture related courses or worked in an area related to agriculture? Or perhaps, like most of us, you are interested in where food comes from.
1st Tuesday of the month from 10 am to 12 midday.
Convenor/s Contact Details
David Palmer 5762 4468
Kathy Murphy 5766 4223