Case study 6: Kevin Fitzsimmons
I spoke with Kevin for the first time at the start of last summer (early December 2018). At that time, Kevin was gearing up for a wet summer, having held off irrigation which paid off, given the short-term rain forecast of a high rainfall event did happen, as predicted. Kevin highlighted that key trigger points for dealing with seasons as they progress are motivated by debt more than anything. He also indicated that watching short-term weather forecasts and monitoring water use efficiency, were key risk management strategies in observing plant growth patterns relevant for his farm situation.
When I spoke with Kevin recently (early December) in this second interview, he said the following;
"Last summer was predicted to be a wet one, but it didn't really turn out that way overall. We had that very good rainfall event early December, which set us up pretty well for the season overall; in that it brought down the water prices and we bought our requirements early. So we had enough to get us through. Identifying and putting in place that action early on certainly paid off. We had enough water to get all the way through pretty well, other than towards the very end of summer, where we did stretch the irrigations out (lengthened the time between waterings). I wouldn't have changed anything. We did what we could do at the time and looking back we couldn't have changed anything that could have been to our benefit or detriment. So we are pretty happy with how our summer went".
"In autumn, we planted our oats as planned (it's all in the ground now). Our over sowing of the pasture during autumn as the cows were grazing the pasture, is all coming up pretty well. We've had a couple of late autumn rainfall events (10 and 12 mms) and on the irrigated ground have kept the soil moisture up. It hasn't been an overly wet so it has been a drier autumn overall. It's been perfect for the milking cows because they were not sloshing around in mud. We do buy a lot of fodder traditionally, as we never make enough reserves for ourselves, so we have to buy it in. Even with the high fodder prices, because we are not wasting it (using "O" rings etc.) I would say 95% of it is getting eaten. We are happy with how it's panned out."
"The planting of crops, probably hasn't set us up so much for winter feed. It's been dry and cold. Being a late autumn, we are not going to get a lot more growth, as it's getting too cold for that pasture growth boost. But it's probably set us up for a good spring if we get it; we'll be able to take advantage of it then."
"Given we have to buy in a lot of feed regularly, we've got pretty good relations with our fodder people (we've had that in place a few years now). And that takes a lot of risk out for us. We're pretty well covered as far as fodder reserves go, we've got those relations with our suppliers pretty right.
"I am happy for the winter to stay the way it is at the moment because it's easy on the cows; they are milking pretty well and they're in good condition. If milk prices do improve, we are in a position to take advantage of it. Hopefully that will be the case".
"According to the BOM, it's supposed to be a warmer and drier than average winter, so we are not expecting it to get very wet. We are looking at a dry winter and as far as the spring goes, we are hoping for a good spring following. If we do get a winter rainfall event that turns everything wet, (which can happen), we've set up things and got them in place ready. We built a feed pad a couple of years ago with an area that covers 1.5 hectares; so it's a pretty big area. The feed pad is all gravelled and weather proofed. If it turns wet, then we are covered that way, and if it stays dry we'll still be utilising the pad, so whichever way it goes we are covered".
"I am pretty confident, that regardless of what comes our way weather wise this winter and into spring, we are prepared and we will be able to handle it. The crops are already in. We are also over sowing our pasture to try and get as much pasture in the ground and rejuvenate the pasture, as much as possible. Particularly, once these pastures start responding, we will get a benefit out of our grass in the spring time, in terms of extra DM yield".
"The biggest risk in the coming spring is what's irrigation going to do? What's our opening allocation going to be? That's the unknown at this stage. We could have a dry spring. We will open the irrigation season with at least 20% but that's not going to be anywhere near enough to get us right through. And then of course we are exposed to buying water – and obviously it will be a higher price. So that will put pressure on us financially. But that's another three or four months away and anything can happen between now and then."
"Intricately linked to our irrigation situation is if we have a decent spring or not. We will have to buy water, as we are set on a course to milk a certain number of cows and we are increasing our herd size. We decided that's the way we are going to go, so if anything is not paying its way it will have to go (be culled) – it's an economic decision as far as that goes".