Dry times see sheep producer move south

Central Victoria now the permanent home for NSW sheep producer

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Irrigation changes see NSW sheep producer move south.

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A long-established southern Riverina sheep producer has moved his entire operation south of the Murray River, partly over concerns about changes to the irrigation industry.

Geoff Younger, who was running Sandside, Morundah - between Jerilderie and Narrandera, NSW - has been selling first-cross ewes at Kyneton's annual sale for many years.

But he'll no longer have a presence in NSW, having moved his flock to four lease blocks in central Victoria.

"The operation at Morundah was underpinned by irrigation, but the change in the industry has meant affordable water is no longer available," Mr Younger said.

"The price of water has increased substantially - with the dry years we've been having, it's become quite problematic."

Changes to irrigation practices also drove his decision to move to Africa, where he stayed until 2014.

"It was straight after the deregulation of the irrigation industry - I could see there were going to be a lot of changes, and that's probably one of the main reasons I went.," Mr Younger said.

He cited the gradual shift from farm owned irrigation water, to corporate purchases "for the sole purpose of getting a return on that investment.

"It put an extra level of exposure to more expense for irrigation."

But Mr Younger remained philosophical about the change.

"You can't unscramble the egg," he said.

"I know people are getting frustrated at the Murray River being run at such high levels, but what they've got to realise is that SA has as much ownership of that water as anyone.

"Water is also being delivered to the highest bidder; those highest bidders are below the Barmah Choke."

Mr Younger said the 1335 hectare Sandside property, Morundah, was initially a Border Leicester stud, with 325ha of flood irrigation.

"I was buying larger framed Merino ewes out of Hay, Deniliquin, or Jerilderie, but not sticking to any particular bloodline," Mr Younger said.

"I was looking for something with a good frame, that I could put a Border Leicester over, with a view to lambing down a first cross.

'The wether portion would go to Wagga and I'd bring the ewe portion down to Kyneton, on agistment, to finish them off for the annual first-cross ewe sale."

Last year, Mr Younger sold about 600 Border Leicester/Merino-cross ewes, 1.5 years- old, by Sandside bred rams, out of Riverina ewes.

His first pen of 126 ewes was bought for $364 by Brian McCormack, Landmark, Leongatha.

That was just shy of the top price of $370.

"We've had quite a lot of luck," he said.

"At one stage we had a run of eight years in a row, where we topped the market."

Leasing land around Kyneton had proved to be a very good move, as the rainfall was more reliable and the lifestyle more comfortable.

Ewes were lambed down in the Riverina, transported to Victoria in the late spring, to give them access to good quality green feed, and then returned to NSW in the winter.

But the sheep will now stay the whole year, in Victoria.

Cotton and rice

Mr Younger's stint in Africa saw him growing cotton and rice.

"By 2007, with drought in Australia, I was asked if I could find a location, somewhere in east Africa, where we could do dryland cotton," Mr Younger said.

"The supply of good quality, long-staple cotton, out of Australia, was drying up."

He said he settled on northern Mozambique, before going to Tanzania to set up a rice-growing project.

"Through the 1990's I was doing a lot of rice, at home, and that's probably one of the reasons I originally left," Mr Younger said.

But the call of the family farm drew him back to Australia.

"My father had got to the stage where it was a bit beyond him," he said.

He now has four lease blocks, of varying size, with the smallest at Romsey.

"I'm looking for more areas to lease," he said.

"All the first cross ewes came down from Morundah, with the 2018 drought,'he said.

"I weaned them early, and they were down here by October."

He sold some at Kyneton and retained the rest but has since bought six decks of ewes, out of Forbes.

"I retained 1800 of my own, I've been on Auctions Plus, plus I've picked some up at Seymour and Avenel."

Mr Younger said he expected to eventually boost his flock to 3000.

Production methods

He said he'd noticed a difference in production methods from NSW to central Victoria.

It's tough to finish sheep off, solely on bent grass" he said.

As a result, he said he was investing in pasture improvement, including clover, medic and brassicas.

And he's been asking local producers for advice, as to when to lamb down.

"If I joined at the same time as I did at Morundah, I would be lambing down in the middle of winter, at Kyneton," Mr Younger said.

"At the Woodend block, which is colder than Kyneton, I could see that would not be ideal, so I was asking local farmers their ideas on when they lamb down.

"What I realised is that north of Kyneton, they will join a little later than south of the town, because Woodend, going back to Trentham, is a little more reliable with a late-March/April break, so feed comes away earlier."

Mr Younger said he found the difference interesting.

"North of Elmore, you don't tend to have a noticeable change in lambing practices in a relatively short distance on dryland operations, but the rainfall difference between Redesdale and Woodend/Trentham is noticeable."

The other reason Mr Younger said he had moved his operation to the Kyneton area was for a better lifestyle.

"The fact I had to go 50 kilometres to the local town, and home, and I was coming down here once a week, meant I decided to move," he said.'

"I live on the edge of Kyneton; they bring pizza out to me, once a week and they take my rubbish," he said.

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