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Barossa farm mixes wine with milk

South Australia’s Barossa Valley might be one of the world’s greatest wine regions, but dairy also plays an important role in the local economy.

On one side of the Nietschke Moppa Estate in Koonunga, locals Jamie and Annaliese Nietschke tend to their vines; on the other, they tend to their cows. 

The combination works seamlessly for Jamie and Annaliese who take great pride in knowing their produce ends up on dinner tables right across the state.

The family-owned and operated property was bought 50 years ago by Jamie’s father, John and was traditionally used as a mixed farm with everything from apricot trees to sheep.

While most neighbours are cereal croppers or sheep farmers, Jamie and Annaliese scaled back to two enterprises.

“It came down to what seemed to be the most profitable and best use for the land,” Jamie said. 

“We chose the most suitable area for a vineyard and then worked out the best use for the rest of the land and dairy seemed to be a good fit.”

Not many have maintained a dairy-vineyard combination, but there are about 14 dairy farms that make up the Barossa Mid North Dairy Group cooperative.

“We’re essentially a collective bargaining group,” Jamie said. “We get together and try to find better markets and opportunities for our milk.”

Although small in number, the dairy farmers remain committed to their industry and the group negotiated a deal with Woolworths to supply milk for the Farmer’s Own brand.

“It’s been good for us,” Jamie said. “Having a supply contract with a minimum price for three years has been a bonus, particularly in the current market. It’s a new supply arrangement where the contract is with the retailer rather than a processor.” 

The Nietschke farm also supplies the Barossa Valley Cheese Company, while their grapes are sent mostly to Penfolds for top-end wines.

“We aim for Grange when we can get there, and it’s good to see our milk on local supermarket shelves and in cheeses produced locally,” Jamie said. “We get a lot of satisfaction from that.”

The farm covers 445 hectares, with about 32 hectares dedicated to the vineyard. They milk about 210 cows with calving year-round for an even milk supply. It’s a mixed herd with a Holstein base and some pure Jerseys and cross-breeds to maintain components.

Having two farming enterprises is like having two jobs and keeps things interesting, and Jamie likes both sides. “I guess the vineyard looks after itself if I’m not there while the cows need seven-days-a-week attention, but the dairy industry has given us good opportunities over the years,” he said.
Jamie milked cows in Sweden for seven months after finishing high school; worked on a dairy farm in Japan for two months; travelled with Annaliese through China on a dairy tour; and in 2011 was selected for a Sustainable Farming Study Tour to China, Belgium, Sweden, and Chile.

The Nietschke family has been part of the Barossa region for five generations and Jamie says the sense of community remains strong.

“People have a real connection to the area and their farms,” he said. “Families are keen for their farms to continue and will help the next generation as much as they can; they see that as an important legacy they can leave behind,” Jamie said. “It’s not just a business.”

The Nietschkes, supported by their staff, are undertaking significant environmental improvements to their land, including more shelter and revegetation works. “We want to make sure what we do will improve things for the next generation,” Jamie said.

Jamie and Annaliese have been involved in Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers program, actively promote dairy through the Farmer’s Own Facebook page, have hosted school groups, feature in the Barossa “Be Consumed” tourism ad, Out Of The Blue TV series and recently, the SA Uniquely Dairy videos.