So­lar pan­els next step in quest for self-suf­fi­ciency

Dairy News Australia - - MANAGEMENT - RICK BAYNE

THE IN­STAL­LA­TION of 400 so­lar pan­els on Max and Pam Wines’ farm at Eck­lin South will bring the farm an­other step closer to self-suf­fi­ciency.

Over the past 25 years they’ve made strong head­way in that di­rec­tion, with hun­dreds of trees in shel­ter belts and ef­fec­tive re-use of dairy ef­flu­ent for for­age pro­duc­tion.

Max ad­mits his farm­ing prac­tices didn’t al­ways find favour among lo­cal farm­ers, but the tide turned when they won the Co­lac, Co­rangamite and Wan­non UDV Branches’ Nat­u­ral Re­source and Sus­tain­abil­ity Award at the 2017 Great South West Dairy Awards.

Max likes to do things his way and has al­ways kept an eye on the fu­ture and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Leav­ing hay to get wet in pad­docks won’t hap­pen with Max de­ter­mined to re­duce any po­ten­tial wastage; nor will pad­docks that aren’t pro­duc­ing as well as they should be left to stag­nate.

“I used to get knocked by a lot of peo­ple for rip­ping pad­docks up,” he said. “I’d plough pad­docks while oth­ers would just run a bit of seed on them. We do prob­a­bly 24 hectares a year out of 120ha where we rip them up and put new crops in. It works.”

Their mas­sive tree plant­ing pro­gram started in the 1990s and con­tin­ues to be re­fined and ex­panded.

“We started plant­ing trees by hand about 20 years ago,” Max said. “The first lot were 10 me­tres apart but that’s too wide be­cause you can’t get them trimmed prop­erly, so we’re go­ing back to six me­tres.”

They had planted cy­press and pine trees but now con­cen­trate on na­tive species. “It’s bet­ter for wildlife and the birds; the birds kill the bugs and it’s bet­ter for our pad­docks,” Max said.

“We’re mainly us­ing Black­wood trees be­cause they don’t grow as high and don’t fall over as much. I like trees but I like them in the right spot for shel­ter, shade and wind breaks.”

The Wines’ pref­er­ence for avoid­ing wastage led to the in­tro­duc­tion of an ef­flu­ent re­cy­cling sys­tem in 1992. This year the ir­ri­ga­tion and ef­flu­ent sys­tem will be up­graded to cover about 90% of the 120 hectare farm.

“We can ap­ply ef­flu­ent at dif­fer­ent stages over most of that part of the farm,” Max said.

The big ticket item this year in the farm’s fight for sus­tain­abil­ity will be the in­stal­la­tion of 400 so­lar pan­els.

While the ini­tia­tive might have en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, Max doesn’t ig­nore the long-term fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions.

“We’re try­ing to cut back the power bills,” he ad­mits. “The cur­rent cost of power is bad enough but it’s not go­ing to come down with the clo­sure of Hazel­wood power sta­tion.”

The 98.4 kilo­watt sys­tem will be used for ir­ri­ga­tion, dairy and two houses. They hope to pay back the in­vest­ment over six-seven years.

Dur­ing the sum­mer ir­ri­ga­tion sea­son, power is cost­ing the farm about $5000 per month.

“We run at about 16,000 kilo­watt hours a month and with the so­lar sys­tem they tell us we should put about 18,000 back in,” Max said.

“The new sys­tem should cover most of our day costs. We’ll still run at night with nor­mal power un­til we can get bat­ter­ies to pick up the ex­tra load.”

The sys­tem will be one of the big­gest in the re­gion. “I can’t go any big­ger be­cause it’s as big as the trans­former on the pole will al­low,” Max added.

Part of the in­spi­ra­tion for de­vel­op­ing a sus­tain­able farm has been to leave a le­gacy for his fam­ily and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Kevin and Claire Wines have been share­farm­ers on the prop­erty for the past seven years so the land is in good hands.

They milk 220 cows. “We’re not over-stocked and we don’t buy much in; we get fer­tiliser, su­per and elec­tric­ity and that’s it,” Max said.

“We’re fairly self-suf­fi­cient.”

The farm uses “a rea­son­able amount” of fer­tiliser. “We soil test ev­ery year and work off that; we’re high in pH be­cause the ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter in in lime­stone but we keep a good watch on it.”

Max, who also does con­tact hay work, has lived by the maxim that the farm has to have enough hay for the next year.

“We’ve had 1600 bales un­der­cover,” he said. “I hate to see hay sit­ting out in the rain and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. When they feed it out the cows don’t eat it all and it’s left on the pad­dock. If you can’t af­ford a shed you don’t de­serve to have hay.”

“When we put it out of the shed onto the feed­pad you’ve got a 5x4 roll of hay and there’s no wastage. The cows eat it all.”

Pro­duc­tion now comes un­der Kevin’s con­trol but Max adds that it’s go­ing well. “I think we have a bet­ter farm from do­ing all the sus­tain­abil­ity work,” he said.

“It was nice to get recog­ni­tion with the award. We were a bit over­whelmed.”

The Great South West Dairy Awards were an­nounced on Wed­nes­day May 17 in War­rnam­bool.

Other win­ners were:

Pe­ter and Fiona Mus­son, Macarthur - Gar­diner Foun­da­tion Farm Busi­ness Man­ager of the Year. Isaac and Michelle John­stone, Grass­mere - Dairy Aus­tralia Em­ployer of the Year. Jorge Massa, Cooriemu­ngle - Mur­ray Goulburn Em­ployee of the Year.

Todd and Made­line Led­din, Too­long - Cow­bank Share Farmer of the Year. An­drew Pow­ell, Cooriemu­ngle - War­rnam­bool Cheese and But­ter Fac­tory Young Farm Leader of the Year.

Jess Flem­ing, Go­rae - WestVic Dairy Farm

Photo of the Year.

Pam and Max Wines

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