Better times return to dairy

PETER and Donna Sexton are among the local dairy farmers enjoying the best conditions they’ve seen for many years.

Ten years of drought, followed by locusts and floods pushed out about half the 25 dairy farmers who used to farm in the Dingee district.

With those hard years behind them the Sextons are breathing a small sigh of relief.

Milk prices are up, the Australian dollar is down and input costs have dropped.

And so far – no floods.

“It’s the best year we’ve had since the drought – if it keeps going,” Peter says.

“There’s a bit of optimism and hope around now.”

The Sextons have been dairying on their 180 hectare Dingee property, Lockneell, for 18 years, helped by their son Billy, 20, and Irish backpackers for milking.

Milk from their 270 Holstein-Jersey milking cows goes to Murray Goulburn Cooperative at Rochester, which exports half its milk.

Cows are milked on a 20 swingover dairy and for the past two years the Sextons have employed Irish backpackers as farm labour – a system that’s working well, Peter says.

Annual ryegrass and Shaftal pasture is sown every February and irrigated from March to November.

Summer-active lucerne is grown for summer feed and perennial pasture (clover and ryegrass) is watered in summer.

The Sextons are also trying out sorghum in 2014 for the first time.

It was a good year for hay from grain the Sextons grew on 120 hectares near their home block, which has significantly reduced their feed costs.

The Sextons were one of the first in the district to install a fully automatic irrigation system about three years ago.

It’s made a huge difference to labour, time and water efficiencies, Peter says.

Half the property has been updated to the system, two-thirds of that a “pipe and riser” system with an outlet in every paddock.

All outlets and pumps are controlled by computer so Peter can check which paddocks are being watered and for how long from his office, his iPhone or his laptop.

A paddock that previously took eight hours to water now takes two hours, and Peter no longer has to get up two or three times a night to change the pipes.

Higher electricity costs from the  pumps have been offset by installing a 4.5kw solar system which also yields a 60 c/kwH feed-in tariff.

“It’s much more efficient with labour and using water," Peter says.

“You don’t waste any water - it waters the paddock quickly so you get better quality pasture as well.”

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