Solar panels next step in quest for self-sufficiency
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
Pam and Max Wines