Dry weather farming at Fish Creek

Title: Agriculture Victoria — Strategies for Dry Weather Farming in Gippsland — Joan Liley — Fish Creek

Vision: Map showing location of Fish Creek and Melbourne — Entrance to property — Joan and Rob Liley — Mount Lavinia

Vision: Mount Lavinia - Fish Creek Victoria

Joan Liley:

'I'm Joan Liley. I'm one half of a farming partnership. And we farm very close to the coast near Waratah Bay in South Gippsland.'

Vision: Cattle

'We fatten about 800 prime bullocks a year on about 450 hectares which runs over two farms.'

Vision: Driveway and trees - porcupine

'We're extremely conservation minded. We adjoin the beautiful Cape Liptrap Coastal Park, and we like to think that our farm is an extension of that.'

Vision: Joan and Rob walking to creek - dam

'We have about 20% of our farm fenced out to creeks, drainage lines, and tree lanes, that just add to the beauty of the place.'

Vision: Seasonal Conditions - Joan Liley speaking

'I guess the first thing that rang alarm bells for us, was that it was an exceptionally dry winter.'

Vision: Sea Surface Temperature

'And then as we started to go into spring, we'd been watching the BOM climate outlook very, very closely. And watching that great big pink patch of El Nino spreading across the Pacific Ocean, and thinking this is not looking good for us.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'So we decided very early on, I think that was the big thing for us, to make that early call and then act accordingly.'

Vision: Managing the Risks - Joan Liley speaking:

'So as spring approached we ordered our fertiliser early. We locked up our hay paddocks early. We probably put a lot more fertiliser on our hay paddocks than we normally would. So not only did we get a good crop of hay in November, but we also got probably about as much as we would normally get despite the record low rain. From October to December I think it's the lowest rainfall that's ever been recorded here. So those dire predictions were really realised.'

Vision: Strategic Planning - Joan Liley speaking:

'Well about four years ago we changed from breeding stock, so we had ewes and lambs and cows and calves.'

Vision: Cattle

'And as part of our retirement strategy, we have changed now to just fattening steers.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'So we went on buying steers as we normally would, but we started to prioritise.'

Vision: Cattle

'And the steers that had the potential to get, you know, to be prime and saleable over the summer, got the priority paddocks.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'And the rest weren't. They weren't sacrificed, but we made sure that we kept it, you know, very — foremost in our mind was the fact that we had to get off as many cattle as we possibly could.'

Vision: Cattle

'We don't believe in fattening anything twice. So anything that was potentially saleable was given the best chance that it possibly could.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'In a way it's been an exceptional year because of beef prices. So for us, you know, if we'd had to destock we probably would have found that we'd still have been making a profit. The prices have really hung in there for us. And even if we've maybe been selling a few less prime cattle than we normally would, the price has held up. So likewise, you know, there are lots of options. We could have leased country. We could have agisted cattle. We could have sent them to East Gippsland where it's been much wetter. We could have bought in feed. But in the end that's a financial decision, and you need to, you know, do your budgeting properly and see whether it's worthwhile doing that.'

Vision: Cattle

'But I think the exceptional thing this year has been the fact that the market has held up so well.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'We would never compromise our conservation efforts in any way. We'd never dream of letting our stock into the creeks in dry time. We'd sell before we did that. We don't extract water from rivers or streams, but if we did, you know, I think farmers are obliged to have dams that are big enough to be able to fill those dams in the winter, rather than calling on those streams when they're stressed. We don't have any groundwater, so we are wholly dependent upon our dams.'

Vision: Dam - Joan walking around dam, trees

'And we make sure they're big, they're deep, they stay cool. If possible they've got trees around them to keep them — keep the water cooler and sheltered.'

Joan Liley speaking:

'We would sacrifice a paddock if it meant, you know, having a containment area, but that sacrifice would be done in order to maintain the rest.'

Vision: Key messages - Joan Liley speaking:

'This year I'd say call it early, but I mean we could just as easily have been wrong. But probably nothing that we did would have been detrimental. So, you know, sometimes you've just got to be brave and make that call. And, you know, I'm a great believer that the climate sites is good enough now to be able to predict what's happening. I mean who would have thought 10 years ago that we all would have known about the Indian Ocean dipole, or the Southern Oscillation Index, or even El Nino for that matter. So I think everybody, you know, once upon a time it was possibly only grain farmers who were watching the weather to that extent, but I think everybody does now. And that would be my tip. Keep yourself informed and call it early.'

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

Special thanks to Joan & Rob Liley - Mount Lavinia

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

Page last updated: 27 Jul 2021