A pivotal moment?

Pivot irrigation in Tasmania

34 years ago I first visited the Australian island state of Tasmania after winning a Rotary-sponsored scholarship. I remember not even knowing where Tasmania was but this trip turned out to be one of the most influential periods of my life. It was an exchange trip and my hosts were people from all walks of life, including farmers. As is the case all over the world, farmers love nothing more than showing off their farms to others, so during every spare day or weekend I was dragged kicking and screaming onto farms and into farmhouse kitchens!

Many of these connections and friendships have carried through to today and other than obviously Lincolnshire, Tasmania has become my favourite place on earth. As I don't shoot, fish or play golf, every few years I find time to pop back for a couple of weeks and have a catch up. Farming on the island has changed massively during this period and I would like to share a few of these changes as they will be relevant to farming in the U.K. as we move into the brave new world of unsupported farming.

sheep in Tasmania

We could learn a lot from their 'joined-up thinking'

Tasmania is bigger than you think, the same size as Ireland. The population is only 515,000 so they don't take a lot of feeding, exportation is the key. The geography and land types vary from complete wilderness with enormous rainfall on the west coast through some decent plains in the midlands to dry bush country in the east. The north west coast is an area of deep, undulating volcanic soils which are quite fertile. Traditionally Tasmania was pastoral producing very high quality fine wools, beef, some dairy, apples from the south, potatoes and vegetables in the north. Key assets here would be free markets and enormous amounts of water from the mountains which is used to produce hydro electric power before being used for irrigation.

The two key drivers to change have been this irrigation programme and marketing. Economically Tasmania has always been a bit of a basket case, exports were the high quality wool, timber and beef. Because it is remote from mainland Australia costs are always going to be a higher, a bit like Scotland ( controversial but true! ). Over a period of time the state government and farming industry have completely turned this situation around by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the whole agricultural industry. Everyone recognised the purity of the air and water, good soils, climate and potential of all this irrigation water. These features have been relentlessly marketed by the state and today Tasmania has two hugely successful industries in both food and tourism.

Many parts of Tasmania are not recognisable from that first visit thirty years ago. Numbers of sheep kept for wool have crashed to be replaced by cropping under pivot irrigation. For example Rockthorpe the farm I'm on today stretches to about two thousand acre and only used to carry sheep and cattle. Now the family grow wheat,poppies,potatoes, grass seed and various other crops under nine different pivot irrigators . Indeed there are hundreds of these machines walking the landscape, oh to have been a pivot salesman ! Dairy is still hugely important but totally different, big modern units driven by New Zealand methods drying the milk and exporting to China and Indonesia.

Today you'll find top quality cold climate wines, tonnes of berries, essential oils, various cheeses, 'farmaceuticals' and much more grown to a high standard for high-end buyers who value the Tasmanian story.

farming in Tasmania

Is any of this relevant to Lincolnshire? Well I believe it is . Don't get me wrong, wherever you farm on the planet the challenges of disease, weeds, weather, prices and good old supply and demand are the same, Tasmania is not the land of guaranteed milk and honey. Where I think we could learn is from their joined up thinking on marketing and the fleet of foot of the farmers in an unsupported agricultural economy. If the price of wheat is below the cost of production, they don't sow, they cannot afford to.

Lincolnshire has many similar attributes. Much of it is beautiful, productive and clean and our farmers are innovative and highly skilled. What we lack is a common platform and vision. Lincolnshire needs more recognition as the UK's key food production area. It needs a centre of agricultural excellence; can I suggest Louth?

And finally the weather. Remembering this is summer, it rained for two days over the weekend with the surprise of serious snow on the hills. Climate change apparently!

Best wishes for the season ahead,

John Smith

What do you think? Get in touch: call 01507 605441 or email admin@louthtractors.co.uk.

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