Diversification brings resilience to traditional farming models 11 Apr 2016

Farmers across the nation have seen how diversifying can strengthen the resilience of a mixed farming enterprise.

One of those farmers is South Australia’s Michael Weckert, who runs a mixed farming property comprised of sheep, wheat and lucerne and believes that taking calculated risks can provide healthy returns.

“Traditional sheep and wheat farming is evolving rapidly,” Michael said.

“There’s always a risk to whatever you do, and if you aren’t prepared to take a risk, you wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.”

Michael and his brother, James, recently added lucerne to their operation at Mundulla, SA - a crop which has greatly increased flexibility on farm.

“Growing lucerne for seed was something completely different from our previous winter cropping and hay production, and the high price and good yields are going to underpin our income. We can also cut it for hay or silage according to the conditions and put the ewes onto it for pasture during lambing,” Michael said.

“This year we are looking at over a tonne of lucerne seed per ha, and at about $7 a kilo at the moment, we’re pretty happy with our decision to give it a go. It just adds another string to our bow.

“You don’t necessarily need to buy more land at high prices; through diversification you can maximise what you’ve already got.”

The other Weckert ‘bowstrings’ include winter cereal cropping, hay production and storage for domestic and export markets, a self-replacing merino flock, a lamb feedlot, and contract bailing and harvesting services. They easily incorporate lucerne into most of these enterprises.

Lucerne is one of many crops featured on the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s, a free online resource for people investigating new sources of farm-based income.

RIRDC’s Damon Whittock said while traditional production systems remained the best option for some, diversification of crops could introduce a greater resilience into many farming operations.

“Producers across the board are keen to investigate ways to spread their risk as they face the ups and downs of markets, and a changing climate,” Mr Whittock said.

“We want to encourage more farmers to meet on-farm challenges in the same way Michael has, so we developed an online resource that farmers can use to research the options that may be suitable for their local region."

Nicola Raymond, Lucerne Australia Executive Officer, said the industry is buoyant due to good returns.

“In 2015, total exports of lucerne seed from Australia surpassed levels recorded over the last decade, with over 11,000mt departing our shores,” Ms Raymond said.

“This is due to low world stocks, good demand outweighing available supply and a lower Australian dollar against other major currencies”.

She said lucerne is a very versatile plant that can be incorporated into cropping systems, utilised as a grazing plant for livestock or conserved as high quality hay, silage or chaff.

“It can be sown alone, in mixed pastures or sown with crops and is often more productive than annuals”.