As a first time John Wells Memorial shield winner, Mark Wettenhall said John Wells would be chuffed.
As next door neighbors he said they grew up together, spent many Christmases together and went to each other’s weddings.
“Looking down John would possibly say ‘well done, Marky’ because that’s what he called me,” he said.
“Personally I don’t believe our sheep are special. We are a small family operation but we do buy the top of the Willandra flock rams each year and have done for a long time.”
As lambs, these ewes spent most of last summer lightly stocked grazing in paddocks on the Yanco Creek.
From May, due to the dry conditions and several failed spring crops, the lambs spent months grazing failed wheat crops.
“Normally they don’t get that specialised attention as we are primarily grain growers, so to get the reward we did was possibly a reflection of how tight the season has been for others. To be paid $280 a head when we were only hoping for $200 was a tremendous thrill,” he said.
Continued flows under threat
Almost all of the past winners of the John Wells Memorial Shield at the Jerilderie Breeders’ October sheep sale farm alongside the Yanco Creek.
The sheep grazing country has a vibrant environment habitat which is home to a vast array of bird and wildlife including the rare native Trout Cod fish and the endangered Southern Bell Frog.
But Mark Wettenhall, who farms the Jerilderie property of Cara Plains, has environmental concerns with a plan being mooted under the Murray Darling Basin Plan for the Yanco and its tributaries to return to a wet-dry ecology, as in the pre-1850’s.
Mr Weettenhall said while all river flows needed to be managed with sufficient volume allocated to the environment, this should not be at the expense of shutting one existing environmental area to save another.
He believed it was not a practical solution to return to the system to the 1850s, saying it was now a “limited and vital resource” that maintained life, lifestyle and production in a remote part of the country.
Mr Wettenhall said the Warraki wetlands, an area of the Yanco system which is about 40 kilometres long by three kilometres wide, was an area worth saving. He refereed to it as “our own Kakado without the crocodiles”.
He said there had been no consultation with landowners about the future of the Yanco system.
He said the logic behind diverting water for the environment was understood, however the Yanco system’s diversion of water transferred water to the Lower Lakes in South Australia, as the water deviated from Murrumbidgee River and flowed via the Yanco and Billabong Creeks to the Edwards and Murray River systems.
According to MDBA spokesperson the improved flow management works at the Murrumbidgee River – Yanco Creek off-take, had been approved by the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council for further investigation by the NSW Government and the project proponent, WaterNSW, under the Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism.
This project was provided to the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council as a concept proposal only, which will require further detailed scoping, costing and legislative approvals.
NSW is currently working with the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to plan and resource the next phase of the project. The issues being raised should all be examined through these processes, and the validity of assumptions underpinning the project properly tested. If necessary the scope of the project will be refined to ensure the proposed benefits are realised and risks appropriately managed.