Growing as a farmer

By Country News on February 26, 2016
  • Growing as a farmer

    A pivot irrigator helps boost production on Jason Lee's farm.

  • Growing as a farmer

    Kristy Holz, Jason Lee and farm employee Grady Lardner on the Yinnar property.

  • Growing as a farmer

    Growing grass and making it into silage bales underpins seasonal security for Jason Lee and Kristy Holz.

Jason Lee seems to have an old head on young shoulders.

The Yinnar share farmer is just 26 years old, but he is already running a high production farm with the promise of better things to come.

His partnership with the private superannuation company that owns the 130ha property is prospering just 18 months after Mr Lee and partner Kristy Holz made the move from Maffra.

While he’s not one to talk himself up, Mr Lee can let his herd and impressive silage stacks do the talking for him.

His 310 milkers have been cobbled together from his own breeding, dispersal sales and private purchases. They’re a mixed bunch of Friesians, Montpelliers and Jerseys that not only look in the peak of health, but produce when it counts at milking time.

``They are doing really well and still producing 28 litres and they have quite high solids,’’ Mr Lee said in late December.

Growing his herd is all about increasing production, with litres rather than bloodlines his major concern.

But the young farmer won’t have any old cow in his paddock, requiring each animal to tick the boxes of a good dairy performer.

``I’m not really a stud farmer, but they have to be sound,’’ he said.

``You have to be able to get milk out of them and they have to be able to calve and not be prone to mastitis or feet issues.

``Of 100 heifers this year, 90 would make the boat.’’

While he is still assessing the capability of the Yinnar property, Mr Lee believes there is plenty of scope to build his herd.

``I reckon this farm could comfortably run 400,’’ he said.

``With the heifers coming up this year it won’t take long to get up to that number. We’ll work on five years.

``We’ll buy more cows if the price drops, but at the moment we will hang around the 310 number and see what the farm can comfortably do.’’

The high fodder production of the farm combined with lease blocks at Maffra means Jason can consider quickly raising cow numbers if the opportunity arises.

The low-lying property grows plenty of grass in drier years when many other farmers are struggling to fill their silage pits.

This year, Mr Lee cut as much grass as he could throughout the spring, expecting a dry spell that still hadn’t arrived on his farm by mid-December.

``I guess grow as much as you can utliise, whether it be for the cow or for bales,’’ he said.

``I like to put as much down the cow’s throat as possible but if it’s growing there and it’s going to go down in quality, you put it in bales and keep it high quality feed.

``That’s probably why we are up 20 per cent on last year’s production. We farmed like it wasn’t going to rain, but it just kept raining.’’

With 2600 rolls wrapped and waiting in the paddock, Mr Lee went into Christmas with fewer worries than many other farmers. To him, silage in the roll is like money in the bank.

``Even if we have 1000 rolls there that we don’t need, it’s good for your mental health, I guess,’’ he said.

``It might cost you $30000 to make it, but if you have to buy it in it’ll cost you $100000.’’

Having started a school-based apprenticeship when he was 14, Mr Lee must feel like a veteran of the industry now he’s in his mid-20s.

But even the most experience dairy farmer would have struggled to cope when the rotary dairy broke down on their first milking at the new farm.

``The rotary dairy when we first got here was a bit of a nightmare,’’ Mr Lee said.

``The first milking it wouldn’t work, but once it got going it was really good.

``The whole farm needed a bit of TLC, but for the size of the place it was really good.’’

One of the farm's main assets is a pivot irrigator which draws water from a creek that flows through the property. It can only be used when the creek has enough water to satisfy environmental flows, but the efficient watering system can give the farm an edge when there's not much rain falling from directly overhead.

``It’s good when it’s got water, but it seems to have a lot of bad luck,’’ Mr Lee said.

``It got struck by lightning and whenever you want to use it something seems to go wrong.

``But it gives us a prolonged spring. When there’s a rain event in the hills we can put a lot of that out on the pivot.’’

While he’s more than happy to build his equity through the share farming arrangement, Mr Lee would love to one day step out on his own.

``I guess the ambition would be farm ownership, which is probably everyone’s goal in the industry.’’

By Country News on February 26, 2016

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