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Meet the Stewarts

Don and Meg Stewart operate three properties and along with share-farmers, Kelvin and Shelley Matthews, are participating in Accelerating Change on their Yarrawalla property, which totals 242ha and milks 600 cows.

The majority of this property has been upgraded to a pipe and riser system with full automation.

Their farm is an excellent example of a modernised system that has already incorporated the latest technology on farm, which many farmers in the region would aim for.

The Stewarts and Matthews' are expanding their use of soil moisture probes and more closely aligning individual paddock growth and utilisation with irrigation and other input application to drive efficiency and profitability.

The success of the Stewarts and the Matthews’ share-farming arrangement, leading to clear dual benefits for both parties, is a leading example to the industry.

Don and Meg are well established in the dairy industry and local community, hosting and participating in many past research and extension projects as well as sitting on sporting and school committees. Kelvin and Shelley are rising people in dairy industry and aim to not only succession to full ownership of their own property but also become industry leaders.

About the farm

The farm was purchased in 2011. The share-farming arrangement began in 2013.

The share-farming arrangement currently stipulates that Don and Meg supply 2ML of water per cow each season (around 1200ML last season) and then any additional water needed is purchased on the temporary market. The farm used 1686ML last season.

The farm is irrigated via Goulburn-Murray Water’s gravity supply system. The water is pumped directly out of the G-MW supply channel into the pipes and risers.

The dairy is a 50 stand rotary dairy. There is rock based feed pad that is used to feed silage on.

Most of the property has recently had a new irrigation system installed which consists of a new pipe and riser system controlled using farm connect (Rubicon) and a moisture probe which comfortably delivers 16ML/day to most bays.

There is adequate plant and equipment to operate the dairy business which includes a silage wagon.

For the 2014-15 season the fodder production platform consisted of around:

  • 67ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 83ha of annual pasture

  • 50ha of Lucerne

For the 2015-16 season the fodder production platform will consist of:

  • 67ha of ryegrass based perennial pasture

  • 67ha of Lucerne

  • 67ha of annual pasture

Why they are involved

The partners see the project as a opportunity to access new research, innovation and expertise to drive performance of an already efficient system. Both the Stewarts and the Matthews see on farm performance data collection as key mechanism to groundtruth existing practices and assist in the implementation of new ones. This will benefit their own operation as well as accelerate the rate of adoption of new practices for their PIT members and the broader industry.

The Stewarts and the Matthews had a number of goals they are seeking input from the PIT team on. These include being able to determine what is the best mix of pasture species to grow on the farm for the most consistent supply of directly grazed feed that matches the pasture growth rate with the cows’ feed demand while not increasing costs or reducing the total amount of dry matter grown (of similar quality).

They also hope the program will help them determine when is the most economical time to stop watering perennial ryegrass in the summer by measuring growth rates versus water use.

They also wish to measure the growth rates of each species and quality at different times of year and annually to determine the economics of each species.

Their goal is also to install more moisture probes so that each species has its own probe to identify what is the best moisture refill point to use to base irrigation frequency off.

Another goal is to find out whether the use of nitrogen in spring is economical when allowing for costs such as conservation, wastage, extra nutrient removal and soil acidification.

Their final goal is to explore different pasture measuring technology that could be used on farm to help work out how much grass is available to graze to help with pasture allocation and supplement feeding decision. This technology would need to not put a too bigger time burden on the farm if it is likely to be adopted.

What the farm meeting covered

Those who attended the initial farm meeting believe it had been well set up. They were told about issues which were being experienced with the measurement being taken by G-MW to establish farm water use. Currently the pump is sucking the water straight out of the supply channel and through the G-MW meter. It was suggested said that the meter should be on the other side of the pump.

As the share-farming arrangement currently states that Don and Meg supply 2ML of water per milking cow each year, this raised some discussion in regards to the maximum cow numbers and whether they should be capped. Also discussed was what would happen in years that it was deemed not economical to use water.

Another two moisture probes will be installed later in the year with one of them being in a bay with lucerne in it.

Some discussions on the frequency of crop rotations were had, however the Stewarts are confident that the timings they are using are working for them.

Discussion was had around measuring pasture. It was agreed that measuring the costs of the tonnes of dry matter grown would provide valuable insights into the farm’s operations. This and other goals discussed have been fed into the development of the monitoring and measurement strategy.

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