Dry weather farming at Fentons Creek

Title: Agriculture Victoria - Strategies for dry weather farming in central Victoria - Tony Coombes - Fentons Creek

Vision: Map showing location of Fentons Creek and Melbourne - Homestead

Vision: Springdale Fentons Creek Victoria

Tony Coombes speaking:

'Right, well I'm Tony Coombes.'

Vision: Tony getting out of truck and fitting pipe

'I've been farming in the Fentons Creek area since the early mid-eighties. I left school and did a farming apprenticeship with my grandfather, and went shearing and contracting in the local area, until recent years where we've probably gained enough area to be self-sufficient on the farming side, oh well until the seasons have probably made things a little more challenging.'

Vision: Water Security —  water tank

'Water security is probably high on the list, particularly we're in March at the moment and had very little runoff for a couple of years now.'

Vision: Empty dam

'And the time spent carting water just limits you to whatever else you might do around the farm.'

Vision: Tony getting ready to pump water

'So maintenance or any of those more tedious jobs that you'd like to get done over the summer aren't happening.'

Vision: Truck

'Groundwater is not an option for us. We're a runoff area. Any water that's under the ground here is salty.'

Tony Coombes speaking —  water truck spraying ground —  aerial view of farm:

'Fortunately, we've had runoff off some hill country that meant I haven't had to bring water onto the farm but we've distributed water around the farm via truck and tanks.'

Vision: Aerial view of truck and Tony near dam

'And when it's hot it's a daily occupation. We cart about 13 or 14,000 litres in a load, and with the numbers of sheep and lambs we've got that's a load a day.'

Tony Coombes speaking:

'So there's two hours gone each day not doing much other than pumping water.'

Vision: Stock numbers and opportunities

'We started looking at the numbers, and knowing how important it is to have sheep in our operation, that we've only marginally reduced the numbers.'

Vision: Sheep

'But to have that new base to restock quickly when things change, or this may be the norm'.

Tony Coombes speaking:

'And I think the more of what we produce we put back through the stock is probably going to be the best reward. The world's a wash of wheat and barley, and yeah, the growing protein's a little difficult in canola and lupins or whatever pulse you might choose to grow. So sheep are the best protein that we can grow. And using grain and hay in our pastures are probably the best return.'

Vision: Managing the risks —  silos—  Tony Coombes speaking:

'I think we've evolved in the last 15 or 20 years as it is. We've always grown canola and a few lupins that are probably a little more high-risk on low rainfall years. But a shorter season variety, crops sowing earlier, we've done as much as we can we think, in minimising our risk. Livestock have been an important part of our operation, and maintaining our ewe base has been critical, that we can generate income when things do change. So yeah, we have changed but it's been slowly because the dry seasons have been with us for quite some time.'

Vision: Beyond the farm gate

'Well, I think it's critical to get out and see your friends. And being fortunate in the respect that, when I left school there was a group of farmers, all my friends that I went through school with of the same generation went back to their local farms. So, around here there's probably 10 or a dozen of us that are, you know, within a 10 year age bracket.'

Vision: Photo of football club members

'And we have a pretty close social fraternity. The football club's important.'

Tony Coombes speaking:

'Our local VFF branch is made up of a lot of those members as well. So, if you have friends, and having probably a little more diverse group of friends too. I'm involved in other sporting clubs, cycling and so forth, and that gives you another group of people to talk to. And they're always interested to know how you're getting on. Then they get an overall view of what things are like on the land.'

Vision: Key messages

'Oh, being conservative is probably an important one. You know, it's a good idea not to spend the money until you've got it, if you're in that fortunate situation. But being able to do most of the work yourself, we —  I do a little bit of general construction, machinery manufacturing, hopefully being able to maintain our own gear. Servicing, keeping our costs down without compromising reliability is probably one import aspect.'

Vision: Aerial view of water tanker near dam —  Tony Coombes speaking:

'Any other information, oh we're always — it's important to keep abreast of all the new technology, and talk to your Department people, and your agronomists, and resellers, because there is information there that can assist. Yeah, we get it, there's probably no one big thing, but a lot of little things that —  all the one percenters that make a difference.'

Slide: Agriculture Victoria —  Drought. Don't go it alone

Special thanks to Tony and Christine Coombes —  Springdale

Victoria State Government – Speaker: Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne

Page last updated: 18 Jan 2021