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Dairy farmers' relocation to lush Tasmania from dry Victoria a success for three young families

Margot Kelly, Monday October 8, 2018 - 10:18 EDT
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Waaia neighbours Murray Williamson, Adam Waasdorp and Damien Carpenter all moved to Tasmania. - ABC

A southern migration from Victoria to Tasmania has proven a sound choice, helping a trio of dairy farmers flourish.

By coincidence, the former neighbours from the Mallee region of Victoria found themselves neighbours again on the green pastures of northern Tasmania.

Over the past three years, Murray Williamson, Adam Waasdorp and Damien Carpenter have moved their dairy operations to within stone's throw of each other.

The finer points of their stories differ but are all essentially the same — they each sought affordable, reliable water, good rainfall, and somewhere good to grow grass.

Mr Williamson moved to Riana, near the coastal town of Penguin, in August 2017.

"We're all from the same area, a place called Waaia about half an hour north of Shepparton in the Murray Valley," Mr Williamson said.

"The countryside there changed a lot over the last ten years and due to water issues and climate change — if that's what you want to call it — we all sort of found our way down here."



The lure of Tasmania

Mr Williamson said it was a long process to decide to shift the family's farming operation 700 kilometres south.

"Previously, over the years, we'd come down here holidaying and we could see how productive this country was and the guaranteed rainfall," he said.

"We had a bit of a soft spot for it, but finally curiosity got to us and as times got tougher in Victoria we thought we'd better start looking."

"And it all stacked up with irrigation and the good rainfall and soil."

It did not take Mr Carpenter much convincing to return to his native Tasmania.

"I dairy farmed in Victoria for ten years and in 2015 we were facing a very dry season, so my wife and I made the decision that if we were to get out this was the time.



"The safest area I knew was here, in north-west Tassie."

Basin Plan the final straw

Mr Williamson said when he moved to Waaia, demand for properties in the highly productive region was intense.

"When my wife and I went there in 1992 it was the place to go," he said.

"We had to go out rushing to buy a farm before someone else bought it out from under you. It all made sense, it was a good business.

"In the first 10 years we couldn't do anything wrong.

"It was really good and we thought we were going to be there forever, the way we were going."



But a succession of droughts and changes in water policy changed the outlook.

The Murray Valley farmers were flood irrigated, but the Murray-Darling Basin Plan created uncertainty for dairy farmers.

"We were involved with Goulburn-Murray Water shutting our channel down so ," Mr Williamson said.

"They were forced into making us get our water through alternative ways because they wanted to shut channels down for water savings, which was fine, but a lot of the time it came at the cost of the farmer.

"As time went on they kept on changing their water policy rules and they'd give you less water and charge you more for it.

"We were just over it. That's why we are here. We'd had enough."

Irrigation schemes a drawcard

Over the past 10 years, Tasmania has seen a rapid expansion in irrigation schemes.

State-owned Tasmanian Irrigation has set up 13 schemes with 95 per cent surety with more schemes under development.

Mr Williamson said paying for scheme water in Tasmania was drastically more affordable than under the Basin Plan.

"To give you an example, our power costs this year were less than our fixed charges from Goulburn-Murray Water over there for the year, if you were not irrigating," he said.

"We irrigated for the season here for less than what our fixed charges were in Victoria."

Mr Waasdrop said water security was paramount in deciding which property to buy.

His new farm has seven spring-fed dams, and he also bought scheme water as insurance.

"Water is a very previous commodity. That's why I work hard on trying to secure more water," he said.

Mr Williamson said the combination of irrigation, bore water and high rainfall totals made Tasmania preferable to elsewhere in Victoria.

"If we just went to Gippsland we wouldn't have had the irrigation, and if you start stacking up the figures of what you can grow on a hectare with the irrigation … it's pretty impressive, if you get it right," he said.

Managing dry times

Tasmania is not experiencing drought on the scale of the mainland.

However, two out of the last three summers have seen below average rainfall, and the summer of 2017/18 was a record dry season for Tasmania.

"Murray [Williamson] often said to me that I ran away from a drought. But if you talk to the people down here they say I ran into a drought," Mr Carpenter said.

"But it was not a patch on the dry what I was used to, or what I would call a drought.

"Everything died in northern Victoria that season. Here it wasn't dying, it was just sitting there.

"If we could throw water on it, it grew. So that's what we did.

For Mr Williamson, his on-farm bore water was enough to get him through.

"I couldn't get over the late Spring-early Summer. It didn't rain, but the grass didn't die," he said.

"I'm thinking 'oh it's going to die' and I had paddocks ready for hay. And they just sat there and waited for the next bit of rain and away they went again.

"I thought 'wow that was easy, not watching that die'."

Mr Carpenter, who participated in a farm monitoring project in Victoria and now Tasmania, said his farm was performing more consistently in Tasmania.

"My best years over there [Victoria] were higher than here," he said.

"There were good years, but there weren't enough of those good years."

"Here the milk price hasn't been great the last few years, but we've still been able to achieve a four per cent return on capital.

"I can see us consistently doing a four-seven per cent return on capital, which to me is much better than a boom and bust situation."

Quality of life





Mr Waasdorp said farming in Tasmania has a positive effect on his outlook and the broader farming community.

"Here there's a quality of life. I get my life back so I can enjoy my children without being stuck on the farm at all times," he said.

"The people here are so relaxed. It's like getting back to what we were doing 15 years ago over in northern Victoria."

While Mr Waasdorp shifted his entire herd across Bass Strait to milk them in Tasmania, he has a plan to exit the industry.

"I want to grow potatoes and other crops, mostly for my son. I don't want him milking cows," he said.

Mr Williamson said he was glad the family decided to move, saying it was also partly to ensure a succession pathway was available to his children.

"We've got three boys and if they were interested in farming in the future I just couldn't make it happen, up there, for them," Mr Williamson said.

"I had to go somewhere where they had the choice, where they could farm if they wanted to."


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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