Planning key to success for farmers

Head up the central track of 'Allambi' and it is clear Trevor Perry has a plan.

Cast your eye across the surrounding paddocks and you can witness its development over the past two decades.

Not only is the farm a nicer place to work, but it is more productive than before Mr Perry and his wife, Chris, undertook a DEPI Whole Farm Planning course on their property.

The superfine and ultrafine wool grower first attended a Whole Farm Planning course, run by the then Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, about 20 years ago in a bid to improve farm biosecurity and productivity.

Since then he has turned the open and treeless property bought by his parents in the 1950s into a sheltered, well designed and healthy place to grow lambs and wool.

Farm productivity and profitability have improved with improved pastures, better ground cover management and less soil erosion. Soggy paddocks have been fenced off and regenerated with native trees, which also provide vital shelter for stock at shearing and lambing.

Allambi's planning strategy probably began in the 1982 drought when cypress shelter belts were added to the open landscape on the property near Maroona in Victoria.

Then, when seeking information about stock health issues with Department of Agriculture staff, the Perrys began looking at the security of boundary fences.

"We had a self-replacing Merino flock and wanted to protect them from diseases such as footrot and lice. We also discovered that shelter belts were lacking on the property."

So they signed up for a Whole Farm Planning course that covered fencing, shelter belts, salinity, soils and stock nutrition.

Mr Perry remembers well the lessons learned during those early days at the course.

"I learned that opening gates was a waste of time and that laneways are much more efficient, but that the laneways had to be wide enough to do a u-turn in," Mr Perry said.

"We also discovered that providing shade on the north side of the laneway was not a good idea as the laneways had too much moisture and they got too boggy.

"I also learned that the turning circle for a large vehicle was easier if gates were not too close together.

"Through the whole process we discovered that native trees were better than the cypress trees we had.

"Since our changes, including securing the fences, we have had very few animal health issues.

"We have seen increases in lambing survival percentages by having sheltered lambing paddocks. Other benefits have been off shears shelter for freshly shorn sheep resulting in no stock fatalities as a result of cold weather, a big improvement as we previously had some stock losses in bad weather.

"Better lambing and stock survival means more wool sold, more sheep sold and more income.

"Undertaking soil testing has alerted us to the value of reducing soil acidity by applying lime. Our very acidic soil has improved to be able to grow better clover, better feed value for lambing ewes.

"Follow-up testing has seen pH improve but more applications of limestone will be needed in future.

"Better clover content has helped produce more stylish fine wool production, and with more ground cover and less erosion.

"The improved ground cover has resulted in better water quality in stock dams. Fencing around dams and increasing access to troughs has also helped stored ground water quality.

"We have not needed to buy in supplementary hay or grain and this has been a welcome change during years of dramatically reduced annual rainfall."

Mr Perry also learned how much he could learn from other farmers.

"There was a lot of passing on of ideas and it has given me the encouragement to undertake something knowing that it will make things better," he said.

"It has been motivational and inspirational working in groups."

Several years after the first Whole Farm Planning course the Perrys purchased more land which gave them river frontage and meant they owned the entire wetland.

So Trevor went back to class to incorporate the new assets into his plan.

This included pulling up fences that were in the wetland and resolving to keep stock off the area as much as they could to allow regeneration.

Stock containment areas were added in the drought.

The water supply comes mainly from dams and Mr Perry has a licence to supplement his supply from the Hopkins River, if need be. Water is reticulated around the farm by pipe.

With his parents having lost all their pasture in a fire in their early days, fire is a threat that the Perrys do not underestimate.

The lanes are mowed to provide a safe area and also serviced by small bared out paddocks for refuge.

Trees have always been a major aspect of the plan and Mr Perry's property shows that there certainly is more than one way to plant them.

"It has been a huge commitment pulling out fences and hand planting trees," Mr Perry said.

As a result of this commitment the stock are easier to move and productivity has increased. Spend some time with Mr Perry and you get the feeling he is also pretty content.

The work is not over.

"Plans have to change and be flexible. There are still changes (needed) to make the farm more adaptable to the future whether the farm is used for grazing or cropping."

As the ute heads back up the tree-lined track, one thing is for certain - whatever the future holds Mr Perry will have a plan for it to be more sustainable and productive, while he remains on Allambi.

Landholders wanting to do whole farming planning courses should contact their local DEPI office.

The organiser of an upcoming course at Beaufort, Clem Sturmfels, said courses are not geographic specific so anyone can attend from any part of the state.

The course starts on February 25. Those interested can contact Clem Sturmfels - 0429 018 879.

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