Finley ditched as hopes dry up

By Country News

David Bramley and Susan Wylie are proud and passionate Finley crossbreed ewe farmers, but they fear the future of farming in the southern Riverina isn’t viable.

The couple is moving to Dannevirke on the south-east side of New Zealand’s North Island, about three hours’ drive from Wellington.

The decision to move wasn’t easy for 48-year-old Mr Bramley who has lived on his Finley property his whole life.

‘‘I don’t want to go because I grew up here and I like it,’’ he said.

‘‘But if Susan and I want to run a prime lamb operation, the way I see it, it is becoming impossible to do with little to no water.

‘‘I had to make the tough decision and I’m prepared to go and make the most out of it.’’

Mr Bramley said there had been too many times in the past 20 years with zero water to run a successful farm.

‘‘Between 2002 and 2010, we had 2500 crossbred ewes and would feed them for 18 months,’’ he said.

‘‘Costs were getting right out of hand so we de-stocked and eventually in 2012 we re-stocked again but only went to 1500 ewes because of the risk having too many.

‘‘We carried them through until July last year and then de-stocked again because once again that risk of carrying too many when we get to March this year with no water or feed.

‘‘The way I see it, and other farmers have their views, but in my opinion, it’s a combination of factors as to why we’re getting no water.

‘‘I’m no expert but it’s a combination of government water policy, water trade which has been a bad thing, carryover and the dry years. It’s not just one reason for leaving but multiple factors and getting to a stage where we don’t feel we can run a successful livestock operation here.

‘‘Susan and I want to run a successful operation. Susan lives and breathes it and it’s what she wants to do for her whole life.’’

Although Mr Bramley has some issues with leaving, the farmland he and Ms Wylie have purchased is economical for his ewes compared to Australia.

‘‘The price was the equivalent to selling 1100 acres of irrigation land here in Finley and 600Ml of water.

It’s virtually green 10 months of the year in New Zealand,’’ he said.

‘‘From my experience I can feed two lambs off one megalitre of water.

‘‘I’m using 600Ml of water for 1200 prime lambs at 50kg live-weight but I need to grow grain on the rest of the farm. We’re using that grain from January to March so we can’t turn anything off.

‘‘The issue we’ve faced in Finley is I don’t get to use that 600Ml of water; over the next 10 to 20 years I might only be able to use 50 per cent of that, based on the previous 20 years.

‘‘That means I might only have 300Ml of water so I will only have 600 lambs; that’s not viable. This year we had zero allocation so we’ve had nothing.’’

The plan is to have 3000 ewes on the farm, selling 2500 lambs, keeping the 500 replacements and run about 100 head of cattle.

‘‘We just rely on rainfall with our grazing so we won’t need to irrigate. In Finley we get close to 350mm per year,’’ Ms Wylie said.

‘‘Some parts of New Zealand like the south-west coast of the South Island, you will see nearly 2400mm of rain but other parts a lot less. New Zealand doesn’t have dry years, they classify it as a dry month.’’