De­ci­sions pose the big ques­tion: when is farm­ing not farm­ing?

Mansfield Courier - - PROPERTY - By RICHARD JAGO

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.

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