The decision to plant a summer crop of corn was not taken lightly for Murray Dairy focus farmer Brad Adams.
It was one of the many topics up for discussion when he hosted a meeting at his Mywee farm in December.
Facilitator Phil Shannon and the group spent the day discussing Mr Adams’ operation, summer cropping, water prices, cool cow strategies and the tough season.
The business milks 480 to 500 Jersey and cross-breed cows. Originally the herd was milked on two farms - the home farm at Mywee and a new farm purchased at Koonoomoo in 2013. Due to this season’s tough conditions, Mr Adams decided to combine the herd and bring the whole dairy operation back to the home farm at Mywee.
“We will restart Koonoomoo back up in autumn. In the meantime I am saving on labour and shed costs,” Mr Adams said.
“The home farm has milked 500 before so I know we can do it comfortably.”
The cows will graze millet and summer crops grown from water from a deep lead bore. They will also be fed silage and hay.
Mr Adams was lucky enough to receive 115mm of rain back in November on his Koonoomoo property which resulted in him capturing around 100Ml of water in a turkey nest dam. He decided to plant 17ha of maize.
“It is a bit of a gamble but we have done our sums and we think we will get away with the crop costing us around $200/tonne,” he said.
“It was a freak rainfall event and we did toss up whether to leave the water for autumn but the dam has a fairly large surface area and we worried about evaporation so we decided to go ahead with the maize.
“It is a bit of a gamble but every day you get out of bed you are taking a risk and we are pretty confident of getting something reasonable in return.”
He is hoping to replace some of his grain usage later in the year with the maize.
“If I can feed less in the bail and replace it with more home-grown fodder then I am bringing down the cost of the $400/tonne feed.”
The business relies fairly heavily on backpacker labour, but Mr Adams has found this to work really well.
“We have a constant stream of workers coming through but we have a transition period and it seems to work all right for our business.”
Mr Adams is 18 months into the Focus Farm project. He has found it to be beneficial in many ways.
“We have a support group that gives us good feedback. The famers involved are good farmers themselves and can take things we have discussed back to their own businesses and when you are involved with something like this, it pays to keep an open mind.”
Mr Shannon said in a season like this it remained important that each farmer knows exactly where they were sitting financially and make business decisions accordingly, especially when it comes to irrigating.
“Your gut feeling is usually right but you do have to be aware, especially in a high water price year, where the point is where home-grown feed becomes too expensive and purchasing in fodder is a cheaper option.”
When it came to managing cows during hot weather, the consensus among the group was to milk early, keep the cows in nearby shaded paddocks and keep the feed up.
One farmer did pose the question to the group about splitting up the herd but it was generally agreed by the group that there was no real benefit. In the long run it only created more work for little gain.