Brian will talk about what has become a contentious crop because of water shortages.
This Tuesday 5 February 10 am - our main speaker will be Brian Vial, formerly a Moulamein rice grower.
Brian will talk about what has become a contentious crop because of water shortages.
David Palmer with guest speaker, Myrhee hop producer Alison Earp, December 2018
One hop cone is all that is needed hop wise to produce one bottle of beer, Alison Earp, Myrrhee, told our Stock and Land group in December. However the higher the alpha acids in the resin glands of the hops, the lesser the volume of hops needed, for a given degree of bitterness of a beer.
Alison said she married into the hop industry when she teamed up with husband Les at Myrrhee. He died nearly five years ago, but Alison has continued in the industry by growing about 15 old, mostly aroma rich hop varieties for boutique breweries.
Although she doesn't drink beer Alison is quite taken with a green hop derived boutique beer produced in the King Valley.
Alison said the industry was more or less on an even keel – although hops were always much easier to grow than to sell - until entrepreneur John Elliot decided the industry was a cash cow in the 1980s.
"He established a large area of vines in Australia but took no account of the fact that growers tend thousands of hectares of hops overseas and Australia could never have any impact on the world price"
Even the current Rostrevor hop garden near Myrtleford, set up by John Elliot, grows 100s of hectares of hops and "burns off the competition," Alison said. It also breeds new high alpha varieties which growers like her cannot get access to.
Botanically hops, a perennial herb, are closest genetically to marijuana. But they don't contain THC, the active ingredient which makes marijuana so desirable.
Alison said hop roots are extremely tough and will grow during summer up to more than 5m vertically along strings tied to overhead wires.
The old varieties she grows are not easily machine harvestable and since the demise of readily available mostly Asian work crews for stringing up and training vines and picking hops – the biggest work areas – the crop had become much less economical to grow.
As well growers must invest in about $2m worth of processing equipment on farm, including a $1m pelleter. At their peak the Earps used to produce each March/April about 400 bales weighing 120kg each, of kiln dried hops.
Today there are two main agents handling sales from about 30 growers with Myrrhee remaining the principal point of production in Victoria. It is not historically and currently possible for growers to sell direct to brewers.
With Stock and Land’s November session falling on Cup Day, the group met in early December when Alison Earp, a hop producer from Myrhee, gave a fascinating presentation on growing and using hops. Another popular 'Stock and Land' session with lots of positive feedback from class members. We are all looking forward to David's report in the next newsletter.
Dr Dennis O’Brien, former head of the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus and currently with wife Gail, a Wagyu cattle breeder at Stewarton, spoke to our October meeting about animal welfare. After graduating in agricultural science at the University of Sydney, Dennis worked for five years on development projects in the Philippines and Indonesia. He also worked in seven other Asian countries until 1985.
Quoting a US definition, Dennis said animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives.
“An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and slaughter”.
Dennis said the big animal welfare issues in Australia were mulesing, castration, live export, slaughter techniques, intensive systems, tail docking of cattle, dehorning and others.
Another is lack of appropriate shelter for many paddock raised animals. In the last few decades farmers have increasingly adopted Landcare tree planting techniques not only to care better for their land but to also to maximise livestock production.
On the other hand Dennis said a group of visiting Iowa farmers, could not understand Australian farmers’ increased focus on planting trees and shrubs, when in their state they planted no trees on their farms.
Dennis highlighted country (farmers’) versus city (consumers’) attitudes to animal welfare.
Farmers: “What do city people know about farming?” City people: “Farmers are bastards!” Farmers: “They’re greenie, leftie do gooders; they don’t understand … let us get on with it. We are the custodians of the land; we love our animals."
Mulesing wrinkly Merino sheep’s breeches is a contentious Australian and international animal welfare issue Dennis addressed.
Responses to the controversy include: Don’t respond; it needs to be done to prevent fly strike; do it but with anaesthetic; genetically select within the breed for unwrinkled breeches; use pegs (clamps) to “rubber ring” wrinkled breeches and select a breed with clean breeches or one that sheds its fleece.
One picture Dennis showed of the mulesed area of a sheep surrounded by a much larger area that was badly fly blown, highlighted to this writer the futility of the technique.
Our November session falls on the Tuesday of Cup Day. We are investigating at an excursion to the Wangaratta markets with a follow up chat with buyer Gary McCorkell on Thursday 8th November (it will be an early start) and will let members know if this goes ahead.
Watching this DELWP video related to restoration of trout cod native habitat, restocking and management of the Ovens River, not too far from Benalla, jogged memories of 'stock' in rivers in country settings as a child - evoking memories of eeling at night, and yabbies in dams. It might elicit stories relating to the role of inland water marine life in rural settings...
Dookie College’s relatively new automated dairy at Nalinga, 30km west of Benalla, was the meeting place for 11 of us in September.
Damian Finnegan, three months into the dairy manager’s job, greeted us and provided an articulate and knowledgeable account of the operation.
It is on 89ha (220ac) of clover/ryegrass pasture beside the Broken River and comprises three flood irrigated blocks and some elevated dryland. The 150 head strong herd calves three times a year and 133 head were producing up to 45L a day each through four Lely Acrobat robotic milkers when we called. Newly calved cows were producing more like 20L a day. The Acrobats allow cows to be milked up to three times a day although the average is about 2.2.
Each cow carries an electronic tag around her neck which pretty much controls how much in bail feed she gets, how the machines adjust the application of cups to her particular udder, where her milk goes (colostrum is labelled, stored and fed to her specific calf), and at every milking, records numerous health indicators like cud chewing activity, temperature and weight.
Many cows were clearly showing their ribs and some Stock and Land members thought they were a bit thin. But Damian said they had recently been body scored at about 4.5, which he said was “pretty high” and more than adequate for maximum milk production and health.
The cows have 20kg of grass, 7kg of pellets and 3kg of hay available to them every day “which is more than they can eat,” he said.
This visitor was impressed by the quiet efficiency of the operation; the only dramatic event was the release over about one minute, of a flood of several thousand litres of recycled water from special silos, to wash down the yards and dairy floor. Because of the short term deleterious effect of effluent applied directly to pastures, it is dewatered and stored and is likely soon to be composted. Some goes to a worm farm.
Damian said the expense of running the operation, had blown out unexpectedly by about $20,000 in technician’s charges, incurred since May when they had to repair wiring chewed by an invasion of rats.
“One wire down and the whole system goes down,” Damian said.
There are about 20 Lely Acrobat automatic milking systems in operation around Australia with one dairy having 10 units. But major growth is expected in Tasmania where 18 robotic installations are planned.
The speaker for our next meeting on Tuesday October 2 will be Dr Dennis O’Brien who will speak about animal welfare. He has worked extensively in Asia on agricultural development projects and was in 2002 appointed associate professor and head of the Dookie Campus of the University of Melbourne. Dennis and wife Gail run Wagyu and Wagyu cross cattle on their farm near Stewarton.
Finding innovative ways of making repetitive jobs easier and more efficient, has been a key driver of Devenish prime lamb, cattle and crop producer Kevin Mitchell's farming life. Now 77 and still active, he and wife Pat run 1000 acres, half of which is flood irrigated from the Broken Creek. They moved to the Devenish district in 1960 from Sea Lake to find more reliable rainfall.
Running 1500 crossbreed ewes and an average of 2500 lambs they produce each year by themselves, prompted Kevin to make the way they handled them, more efficient.To that end he installed an overhead rail and movable shearing machine above their sheep race, so he can more easily crutch the flock; it works so well he reckons every sheep farmer should have a similar set up. But he is clearly disappointed the idea has not caught on. He said the rail ran the length of the race and enabled him to stay standing and crutch between 2000 and 3000 sheep a year by himself. It is paired with a Pro Weigh sheep handler which lifts the whole race so all the sheep in the race have their feet off the ground and are therefore disinclined to struggle. It is particularly useful for inoculations and Kevin said its calming effect, meant he could inoculate about 20 a minute.
The Mitchells were innovators too, in their cropping operation, when in 1962 they expanded the grain and fertiliser boxes on their combine and augured seed and super. in from truck mounted bulk bins. But Kevin said it took the best part of a decade for that idea to take off elsewhere.
Kevin's wife Pat is an active participant in the farm's operations too; he said if your wife could work amicably in the sheep yards with you, your relationship was probably faring well. Pat is secretary of the 15 farmer members Goorambat lamb group and is also a qualified wool classer. But Kevin said their wool was "terrible" because producing prime lambs was their major money earner. They buy Prime Line rams from a prominent Holbrook breeder, to maximise profits from lambs.
To encourage the best pasture species and maximise their production, the Mitchells laid 8km of poly pipe to about 50 paddocks. That enables them to fine tune grazing of each paddock which might mean just a few hours access for a big mob.
The Mitchells have also been active in the $50,000 project to paint massive soldier and military nurse pictures, or silo art, on the Devenish silos. He said 15,000 people had signed the visitors' book (they are now halfway through the second) since the massive artworks were completed in April.
Plans are underway for post and rail fencing and seating near the silos and Kevin said he would love to see a coffee shop start to better serve silo art visitors.
David Palmer and Kevin Mitchell
For our September 4th meeting, we will visit Dookie College's automated dairy on the Midland Highway at Nalinga. We need to be there by 10am so will meet at the Senior Citizens at 9.00am to sort out how we arrange shared cars before leaving no later than 9.15am
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.
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
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 Contact Details
David Palmer 5762 4468
Developed and maintained by members, this website showcases U3A Benalla & District.
Photographs - acknowledgment to U3A members;
Weebly 'Free' images;Travel Victoria and
State Library of Victoria