Mining for sheep

I’ve been pretty amazed by some of the scenery on the doorstep of my Nuffield chum’s farms, and none more so than at the final stop of my little road trip around NSW and Victoria.

Rowan lives on the edge of a place called Taralgon, about 90 minutes east of Graeme’s place in Fish Creek. It’s a town of about 30,000 people so it’s probably the most populated place I’ve been to outside any of the major cities, but unlike the other towns it’s economy is based on a different kind of production to agriculture:

Rowan's

Errm… Sorry, don’t know how that there. I meant to use this picture, obviously:

Taralgon power plant

The Loy Yang power station was built in the 1980s and it’s cooling towers and the open-cast coal mine are a prominent part of the town – not only is it a major employer, but it’s pretty hard to miss seeing as the main roads run right through the centre of the plant.

It’s a prominent part of the 5500 acre farm Row produces sheep, cattle and crops on with his dad and his brother, Tim, too.

Great-Grandpa Paulett’s original family farm has long-since succumbed to the power station’s coal mine and the new generation has had to spread out a bit. The power plant can force compulsory purchase orders on farmers in the area, but it tends to offer about 10% above the value of the land to ensure it gets it with as little turmoil as possible. It sounds like a good solution until you start looking at prices for equivalent land elsewhere in the area – back towards Fish Creek the land prices are pretty bonkers.

Row and his family lease a fairly large acreage from the power plant under the proviso that they keep it looking neat and tidy on its behalf, and that they scarper from the land as soon as the plant decides it wants to start mining on it – giving notice of anything from a few weeks to a year.

Taralgon

The Paulett’s lose about 40 acres of land each year to the mine, but they rent it at a reduced rate so they see it as a fair relationship.

I think I’d go a bit crazy having the threat of the power station looming over me and my business, but Row seems to be pretty stoic about it. Other than conceding there will be emotional ties to the building, he’s more or less prepared himself for the fact that one day the power station will even force him from his house.

For some people in the area, the potential for the land to be ripped up means they haven’t really bothered looking after the pasture and putting in inputs,  but Row and his family have done lots of work to restore the grazing land for their merino-cross flock and as a result improve sheep production.

Elsewhere on their non-power station-risked land they’ve also focused on improving soil quality by direct drilling. Raised seed beds have also helped them improve their yields of feed wheat, canola and barley as they protect crops from the high-level of rainfall the region gets.

Unlike most of the state, harvest’s looking pretty good for Row as his family’s land sits in a valley which has been protected from the worst of the storms. He doesn’t usually harvest until January either, so by then he’s hoping his crops will have dried out and be yielding well.

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