Dairy revolution gathers pace in Victoria's north

Dairy revolution gathers pace in Victoria's north

Business Management
DAIRY INVESTMENT: Yielima dairy farmer Mark Walpole has started earthworks on a $10-million 80-unit dairy and freestall barn system on his farm.

DAIRY INVESTMENT: Yielima dairy farmer Mark Walpole has started earthworks on a $10-million 80-unit dairy and freestall barn system on his farm.

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Climate change cited as key reason for increase in 'no-graze' dairying.

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Dairy barns and freestall system installations are predicted to continue to increase in northern Victoria, having already doubled in the last five to six years.

That's according to Murray Dairy regional manager Jenny Wilson, who said farmers in the region who planned to change their businesses to zero-grazing, or contained-housing systems, were being supported in a new economic and risk analysis collaborative project.

The project is being run by Dairy Australia, Agriculture Victoria and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

"We have seen an increase, probably over the last five or six years, from about 5 per cent of farm businesses who had large-intensive operations to at least 10pc," Ms Wilson said.

"It's a consequence of people looking for options to better deal with climate change, water policy reform and give an opportunity for expansion and growth."

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She said as farmers looked for new opportunities to provide shade and cooling for stock, the number of no-graze systems was likely to continue to expand.

"We can have extreme weather events and being undercover is a way of providing cow comfort," she said.

She said there was a growing requirement for milk from the region.

"It's a traditional manufacturing, export region - that's continuing, but we are now also supplying a lot of milk into the domestic market, into NSW and Queensland," she said.

"We are very well positioned, regionally and nationally, to maintain a strong producing region.

"There's affordable land, with good access and good cropping country around us to provide a feed base."

Yielima dairy farmers Mark and Kate Walpole have started earthworks on a $10-million 80-unit dairy and freestall barn system, which will eventually house 3000 cows.

"We can see the long-term future of dairy being that way, to make better use of the feed resources and look after the cow's health better," Mr Walpole said.

"The cows are not walking and they are in a more controlled environment, so you can feed them better."

He said they had been working on the project for about three years.

"We've been to the US to do the research, looking at different designs and options," he said.

He said one of the biggest hurdles was navigating council planning red tape.

"The trouble you have is that no one knows what it is, rather than trying to work it out, they try and lump it into another style of shed," he said.

Ms Wilson said that was a part of the process that required constant education and information.

"Agriculture Victoria has been working in this space for a long time and they have some fantastic information," she said.

"It's really a matter of any farm business looking to implement one of these new systems really needing to make sure they have the right expertise on the farm already."

The Victorian government says it is backing new technology on Victorian farms to improve the resilience, sustainability and efficiency of dairy businesses.

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the Dairy Transition project aimed to practically support farmers to help them make decisions that would make their businesses more sustainable.

"The Dairy Transition project is helping Victorian farmers navigate their way through this rapid period of change and modernisation to ensure the sector continues to move ahead with resilience and confidence," Ms Thomas said.

Through the project, some Victorian dairy farmers have implemented robotic milkers and modernised housing systems to reuse water, recycle manure and capture methane for energy use.

At Macorna, north-west of Echuca, a dairy business has put into use an eight-unit robotic dairy and compost barn which is capable of housing and milking nearly 500 cows.

Ms Wilson said it was an investment between Dairy Australia and Agriculture Victoria.

"One of the key pieces of work is looking at the economics that underpin these systems," she said.

"Because it's a fairly new, rapidly-emerging space, there is not a lot of really good economic data."

"Understanding all the different components and what that means, from an economics point of view, is really important."

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The story Dairy revolution gathers pace in Victoria's north first appeared on Stock & Land.

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