Decisions pose the big question: when is farming not farming?
ALEXANDRA cattle farmer David Blackmore has come in for his share of stick, with the rejection by Murrindindi Shire Council of his application to conduct extensive animal husbandry on his farm.
The beef cattle farm exports to 20 countries, targeting top restaurants for its highly regarded wagyu beef.
The rejection of the application comes on top of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decision to view farms that import more than half the nutritional needs of livestock as ‘intensive farming’, requiring a council permit for continuation.
It also follows objections from neighbours citing problems with noise, dust, trucks, compost odours and cockatoos.
Council’s decision makes the property effectively a feedlot.
Blackmore Wagyu – which cost some $2 to $3 million to set up - has around 3000 head of cattle on some 6500 acres mostly on leased land, some of which is in Mansfield Shire.
From t he 1500 head of breeding cattle, calves at six months are brought from other properties to Alexandra, where they graze on grass on the irrigated property.
At 10 months, they go into an ‘eco-feeding’ program on a mix made up of seven different commodities.
At the same time they are out in the paddocks where there is excess grass, meaning the animals can choose what amount of grass and feed they consume.
Mr Blackmore said these animals show a 20 per cent increase in their daily weight gain under these conditions – a significant boost in farm productivity.
“Their health and structure are better than animals kept wholly in feedlots,” he said.
“Most wagyu farmers feed them in lots, but I’m sure ours are more content as on grass they don’t tend to walk about, they can just lie down.”
These animals don’t leave the farm until they reach 900kg.
Yea cattle breeder, Don Lawson, said there are three routes for cattle breeding: all grass, feedlots (which counter droughts) or pasture plus supplements.
“Agriculture is the main business of Victoria” he said, “and in the Eildon electorate there is a massive involvement in this.
“This (decision by Murrindindi Shire Council) shows council up as being anti-agriculture – I hope it leads to an administrator being appointed”.
The application for a permit to continue operation followed a curious route, according to Mr Blackmore.
It began as an application for extensive animal husbandry which the shire could not process; he was advised to apply for ‘beef cattle production’ – which has now been refused.
“The EPA, CMA, GVW, DEPI and others have no objection to this operation,” Mr Blackmore said.
“Even the shire’s planning department r ecommended granting a permit.
“There was also a consultant – Professor Rigby from Melbourne University – who concluded his report saying ‘this operation was an appropriate use of the land and should be supported’”.
President of the Mansfield branch of the Victorian Farmers Federation, James Tehan, said this issue goes right back to the right to farm.
“It’s hard to understand why (Murrindindi Shire) councillors would go this way – they did not accept the planning department’s recommendation,” he said.
“This farm is in farming zoned land; and objections about cockatoos, dust and smells – welcome to farming.
“I am very surprised the local farming community has not pressured council”.
The issue of what is appropriate in Victorian agriculture needs to be clarified post haste as it affects many other agricultural area, including piggeries and especially dairying.
It is an issue currently being examined by the government, with Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford stating she was unsupportive of the view farmers need a council permit to continue farming.
“This is not a road we want to go down – we want to ... encourage farming and reduce red tape,” she said.
Her intercession will lead to discussions with State Planning Minister Richard Wynne to examine what can be done t o counteract t he effect of changed planning and land use laws that will drastically restrict Victorian agriculture.