A strategic approach to managing fodder has helped one northern Victorian dairy business manage its feed costs.
For John Eade and Sue Stewart chasing milk production doesn't come at any cost.
Instead, the couple choose to focus on their margin over feed costs across their two dairy farms.
Milking 1000 cows across two farms near Pine Grove in Victoria, the couple produces enough feed to be "self-sufficient" in an average year.
This year they are looking to plant maize after a year off due to high irrigation water costs.
The couple also runs a fodder contracting business called Eades Forages and expect many other farmers to plant maize this year too - if the water price doesn't rise.
"I still reckon if water is under $200 (a megalitre) people will put in a lot of maize," Mr Eade said.
"I'm anticipating they could put in 3000ha this year, on our customer farmers. Two years ago, we did 2200ha, but this year the indication from just a few blokes is that it could be up to 3000ha."
Mr Eade said there was also a lot more inquiry for whole crop silage compared to previous years.
Whole crop silage is the whole cereal plant with grain-fill in the grain head. It is a good starch energy source and popular with dairy and beef farmers.
Eades Forages uses a six-metre disc front of three of its four 960 Claas jaguar forage harvesters to go into a standing crop and harvest it for whole crop silage.
At their own farm where they grow feed for the dairy operations, whole crop silage is a "no brainer" for the couple.
The grain's milled, if it needs to be, and all the straw is cut to 12-20mm and it is all in the pit together, he said.
Combining the dairy and contracting businesses means Mr Eade and Ms Stewart are in a unique position to get the best value out of homegrown feed.
For example, four years ago Mr Eade was able to plant, grow and chop whole crop cereal silage for $100-$150 a dry tonne.
"If I'm feeding that to the cows, they might be down 3 to 4 litres (a day) but feed costs are massively reduced," he said.
"I suppose even with our grain sometimes we have taken a sample into the silo and they will say 'it's too good for your dairy cows'. But I'm thinking 'it is protein and starch and they are going to make milk, by the time I go to the silo, drop that off and go and buy another load and bring it back there goes my $20 bonus anyway'. I might as well keep it and feed it to the cows."
The couple also knows they can milk cows without irrigation water.
"We have the knowledge that you don't have to grow annual ryegrass or permanent pasture to get milk out of cows," Mr Eade said.
"You can get milk from almost anything."
Controlling inputs helps the cost of production on a dairy farm but having a dairy farm and a contracting business means Mr Eade can provide advice to clients from his own experience.
"We control it right from the start to finish, right to the vat," he said.
"It means, we know what works and what doesn't work.
"A lot of farmer customers rely on me to come back with information for them. They might have their nutritionist, but they come back and say 'what about this John, what about that' and I have got to be able to come up with the technology or the answers. It could be a new inoculant or new plastic or a chopping length."
Eades Forages primarily services the northern Victorian region from Echuca, up to Swan Hill and across to Deniliquin in NSW and back down to Tongala in Victoria's Goulburn Valley.
Customers mostly want crops or pasture harvested for pit silage.
Me Eade said pit silage was cheaper than bales in his region, but farmers also liked it because it was more efficient in a mixer wagon compared with a bale.
We have the knowledge that you don't have to grow annual ryegrass or permanent pasture to get milk out of cows.
An Australian Fodder Industry Association (AFIA) member for 22 years, Mr Eade said he appreciated the networking opportunities with fellow fodder growers and contractors.
Mr Eade sent two forage harvesters to Queensland earlier this year to help a friend and fellow AFIA member during a busy autumn harvest.
He often works in with other Victorian contractors as well, last year he spent time in south-west Victoria chopping silage, which had been rain affected and was late.
Working together with other contractors could be crucial this year as some farmers, who haven't harvested silage for years due to dry conditions, are planning to cut feed in northern Victoria.
"It's like when we came out of the drought in 2010, it was the same, there was feed everywhere," he said.
"That year we did 125,000 tonnes. Then Priebbenows (Queensland silage contractors) and Robbie Townsend did another 25,000 for me. We did 150,000 tonnes of grass that year, it was unbelievable, but everyone was just in the mode of 'we have got to store, we have got to store'. But the following year I did 45,000 tonnes because everyone had pits left."
In the lead-up to spring, Mr Eade was buoyant about all his businesses this year.
"The milk job looks pretty positive at the minute," he said.
"Really, I'm hoping for a good season all round this year."
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