The gently undulating pastures of Karn Station, 15km south of Benalla, are not where one would ordinarily expect to see huge centre pivot irrigation systems in action.
It’s a sight far more familiar in the flat irrigation country to the north and west.
But with the recent surge in cattle prices to a record high, Karn Station manager Tim Stokes persuaded the owners of the property, Jill and Peter Lloyd, that it was a good time to invest in beef cattle.
So 50ha of the neighbouring property was purchased and Delatite Pumps and Irrigation was brought in to advise on how best to irrigate from the Broken River for higher pasture production.
‘‘We were spending $1000 a day in summer on feeding our young cattle,’’ Mr Stokes said.
‘‘Compared to this year, (it) is probably getting through $1000 a week in fuel costs. And the other method, we were running high machinery and labor costs in containment feeding.
Delatite Pumps and Irrigation director Jordan Lewis said more farmers were choosing the long-armed irrigator.
‘‘Centre pivots are very popular in other areas,’’ Mr Lewis said.
‘‘It’s probably a developing thing in this region. We’re converting flood irrigation-type farms to this sort of option.
‘‘This is a much more effective way to operate.
‘‘We can irrigate bigger areas for cheaper running costs and it opens it up to be able to work on ground like this, which is hilly. We don’t have to have a perfectly flat property. We just go over the hills as we need to.
Mr Lewis said the owners wanted to increase their output to be able to get more feed to their cattle.
‘‘It’s called a part circle,’’ he said of the pivot system.
‘‘It’s 420 metres long and does 260 degrees and has an end ‘gun’ on it — that’s what we call sector-controlled, so we can turn it on and off, so we’re effectively irrigating 50ha.
‘‘The machine is designed to deliver 11 millimetres (of water) in 24 hours.’’
The beauty of the system is that it can largely be managed remotely.
‘‘It’s got SMS and GPS controls, so it tells us where it is at any time we want and we can start it from our mobiles phones,’’ Mr Lewis said.
‘‘If anything were to happen, if it was to run out of water or diesel, it would send a message. So the labor component of it is extremely minimal.’’
In little over a year, the irrigation system has been installed and the millet crop standing nearly two metres high undersown with clover is now being grazed by 1100 head of cattle, which are very difficult to find as they feast on the abundant crop.
‘‘Millet is probably not our preferred crop going forward, but because of the way we were situated with getting up and running, it was fast growing and safe to put in late,’’ Mr Stokes said.
‘‘They (the cattle) will get through it. They eat from the outside and work in. It will take six weeks for them to get through it.
‘‘We’ll do two crops of it. We’ll do a winter crop and make silage off it and a summer crop, probably sorghum.’’
Of course, a sophisticated irrigation system doesn’t come cheap. Mr Stokes estimated it cost about $200000.
But he thinks that will be paid off in five years. And with 12 to 15tonnes of dry matter per hectare in the first crop, it could be even sooner.