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Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Trend from livestock to crops

Farmer Jim Grinter represents one of the many northern Victorian farmers who has moved from livestock to cropping.

December 3, 2013 4:01am

Kaarimba grain farmer Jim Grinter.


Kaarimba farmer Jim Grinter is a living statistic. He worked sheep and crops for 50 years but earlier this year sold his remaining flock.

This fits the trend identified by a DEPI land survey in northern Victoria — the amount of land along the Murray and Broken rivers used for cropping has almost doubled in 16 years.

Mr Grinter was a bit surprised by DEPI’s report of the sheer size of the swing from livestock to cropping, even though his farming operation fit in with the findings.

Mr Grinter has about 1012ha. About five or six years ago, he shore 1300 sheep including Merino wethers and some fat lambs.

He sold the remaining 600 first cross ewes in Shepparton a couple of months ago.

Mr Grinter moved from livestock ‘‘for a myriad of reasons’’ including wool and meat prices, difficulty moving stock on increasingly busy roads (with ‘‘drivers that no longer slowed down’’) and return on labour when comparing sheep to crops.

He said neighbours had gone from sheep to cropping because there was not enough money in it.

But the event that pushed him out of sheep completely was no longer being able to graze sheep near the Goulburn River.

‘‘We had 400 acres of river frontage and the sheep used to graze by the river, keeping the area clean,’’ he said.

‘‘The farm had been getting water for livestock for more than 100 years, but we’ve had to fence it off because it’s been taken back as national park.’’

He would have preferred to keep some livestock because ‘‘... as the old blokes say never put all your eggs in one basket’’.

‘‘There is definitely more risk in all cropping. There is no point in doing a farm budget with grain because you could have total crop failure and be 100 per cent out.’’

He said continuous cropping systems also required a lot more fertiliser, particularly in low rainfall, dryland areas where it is precarious to grow peas and lupins that could help put nitrogen back into the soil.

Mr Grinter, who shares machinery and the harvest workload with his son Ian who has a farm in Tallygaroopna, said the move from livestock was also generational.

‘‘The younger generation of farmers like to burn diesel instead of working livestock.’’

DEPI seasonal variability agronomist Dale Grey, who has watched the changes during 16 years, agreed many younger farmers were more excited by the technological advances being made in cropping.

DEPI recorded land use in 682 paddocks in northern Victoria every November, concentrating on dryland regions from Barmah to Barnawartha along the Murray and Broken rivers.

In 1998, the cropped area was 27.5 per cent of the landscape, which has risen steadily to a stable 49-50 per cent during the past three years.

Mr Grey said as a result of all this extra crop, DEPI had also observed the percentage of pasture area retreating over time from 65.4 per cent in 1998 down to 47.1 per cent in 2013.

Picola farmer Keith Holland said many farmers in northern Victoria had moved from livestock to cropping in part because livestock was perceived as more labour intensive than cropping.

‘‘Also as farms have got bigger and direct drilling of crops has become more popular with advances in technology, people can get more cropping done,’’ Mr Holland said.

Mr Holland has bucked the trend by having more sheep than he had 16 years ago. He now runs 700 prime lamb breeding ewes, as well as beef cattle and crops.

Naring dairy farmer Peter Sprunt suggested the move away from livestock could be age-related.

‘‘Perhaps the farmers from the soldier settlement farms have just backed off when they’ve got older,’’ Mr Sprunt said.

For more information on the survey’s finding, see page 4.

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