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Still keen after 134 years of dairy farming

Rosevale dairy farmer Craig Sellars faces the prospect of moving his farm business from the land his family has held for 134 years. But despite the emotional pull, he sees a silver lining.

The Sellars farm has been prone to flooding through the generations but the family has persisted through adversity.

As the Queensland Government considers building three dams over the next few years to combat flooding in the south-east of the state, the fifth-generation farmer realises his dairying operation could soon be under water.

However, as long as he can continue dairying in another location, Mr Sellars is open to change.

“If it did come I’d shed a bit of a tear because we’ve been there so long, but maybe I could improve myself by buying a better farm in another location,” he said.

“We would have to discuss it as a family, but I’m getting to a point where I don’t want to look back and prefer to look forward. If they offer the right money I’ll go somewhere else to keep farming.

“They’re trying to save the flood-prone towns downstream, particularly Ipswich, and we understand that. We only have to have wrong rainfall in the wrong spot and it can do a lot of damage.”

Mr Sellars, 33, said dairy farming remains in his blood and despite tough times in Queensland he has no plans to leave the industry.

“Farming is all I ever wanted to do since I was old enough to understand what it was all about. It’s in my blood,” he said.“I always wanted to come back on the farm and never liked being in town. I love working with the cows, the machinery, everything about it.

“Our dairy is quite low in a valley and gets quite wet. There’s always some form of flood or wet problem,” Mr Sellars said.
The farm was a victim of last year’s deluge.

“Between rotting crops, washing out crops, erosion, wiping out fences, there was a lot of destruction,” Mr Sellars said.
The damage forced the family to end a sideline hay production and selling business.

“Over the years we’ve done a lot of different things and diversified into production and sales of lucerne and cereal hay. That stopped after the floods and we returned the land to cropping for the dairy,” Mr Sellars said.

About 485ha of the farm is dedicated to 300 dairy cows, about 400ha to 300 head of beef. However, more than 90 per cent of income is derived from the dairy operation.

“The beef does complement the dairy,” Mr Sellars said. “Those beef cheques might be only once a year but it’s surprising how they help.

“It’s just part of how the farm has developed and been set up to best use the land.”

Despite his love for dairying, Mr Sellars admits times have been tough in Queensland.

“It’s been a combination of a lot of things. The floods hit hard and then there was dry weather for the past 9-10 months. People can’t afford to be buying feed at the price that it is. Costs are just going through the roof but the milk price isn’t keeping up. Recent rain has eased the pressure at bit.”

The Sellars family farm’s rich history of being self-sufficient has held it in good stead.

“We’ve been travelling all right,” he said. “Being a family we work that little bit harder to make everything work.”

Mr Sellars shares responsibilities with his younger brother Darren and parents Lindsey and Heather.

“We have strategies in place that have got us to where we are today,” Mr Sellars said. “We grow a lot of crops so we don’t have to buy excessive amounts of feed at exorbitantly high prices. We’re putting it through the cows and getting our money that way.”
The farm has always taken up the latest technology and machinery.

It used a pasture-based system until 2001 then started a mixer wagon and feed pad system. Nine years ago it went to a total mixed rations system.

“We’ve been able to grow fodder a lot quicker with rainfall and minimal irrigation and get bulk crops, mainly corn and barley, with minimal expense,” Mr Sellars said.

“We’ve increased our dry matter tonnage opposed to a pasture-based system and been able to increase our herd size and production per cow and get more litres out of the same operation.”

In 2001 the farm was producing 1.2 million litres from just over 200 cows. It is now targeting 2.8 million litres from just over 300 cows on a little bit of extra land.

The Sellars have incorporated GPS and precision planting into their practices, improved their irrigation system and embarked on an ambitious breeding program. The herd is about two-thirds Friesian and other mixed breeds.

“We’re trying to breed the best animal possible. I’m in a mating program with Semex using the immunity plus bulls. We’re trying to cut out any problem by breeding better.”

The farm calves year-round and aims to run 100-110 heifers every year.

Off-farm he sees finding the right people and addressing price issues as the biggest challenges confronting the dairy industry.

“I think the processors and government should step in and try to put more pressure on the market to get prices up for farmers,” he said.

Despite the recent environment, Mr Sellars remains committed to the industry.

“I’d like to think I’m in for the long haul. We have a nine-month old daughter and I’d like to think I’ll have another generation to help me out.

“If I can stay in dairying, I will.”