Management

Tatura dairy operation continually adapts to climate change and water availability

By Rodney Woods

Adapting to a variable climate and a lack of water availability have seen the biggest changes to the Lang Dairies farming operation at Tatura.

The Lang family started dairy farming in 1981 and now owns three neighbouring dairies, covering 1500 ha and milking 3000 mostly Holstein cows.

Phil Lang, who runs the farm with his parents Werner and Josy and brother Markus, said continuing to be flexible was key to keeping the business going, when so many others have left the industry.

“I guess the biggest changes have been learning to deal with variable climate,” he said.

“We have had very wet years, very dry years, failed springs, extreme frosts and heatwaves so adapting the farm system to deal with that (has been the main challenge).

“It's all about having an ongoing drive for efficiency.

“The pasture types we grow have changed, we are more flexible than we used to be, so we can respond.

“Not every year is dry and terrible.

“There are opportunities and you have got to take advantage of them when they are there.

“It's (about) building a low-cost production system that is resilient to whatever the prevailing conditions are.”

While trying to adapt to climate change, the Langs have also had to deal with a lack of water availability.

“Definitely the amount of water we have to use is not what it was,” Phil said.

“Water is certainly more expensive than it used to be.

“So for us we do our best to make the most of what we have.

“We are certainly more flexible around water than we used to be.

“In years where water is more available we'll use it to grow as much as we can but in years where water is not so available, we have the ability to make do without it.

“And that's a big change from 10 years ago.”

Phil explained what changes they had made to adapt to a reducing consumptive pool.

“There's more annual rye-grass and a little bit less perennial rye-grass, we grow lucerne now and we have alternative water with groundwater and drainage water and recycled town water, and we will opportunistically grow maize and sorghum and millet as the season allows.”

With it being a closed commercial herd, Phil said the family had invested "quite a bit" in the breeding program.

“The breeding program aims to build healthy cows that get in calf most of the time, produce a good amount of milk and live for a long time,” he said.

“The health traits — resistance to mastitis, resistance to lameness — they have been the important aims as well as production.”

When it comes to feeding the cows, the Langs buy in all their grain but grow pasture and fodder.

“In a normal year we would directly graze two thirds of the grass and then hay and silage is mostly grown from our own area,” Phil said.

“We will buy in some cereal hay.

“In dry years we have bought in failed crops as well.”

With the industry forever changing, Phil said those who could adapt best, would continue dairying.

“It’s been a wild ride for the industry,” he said.

“There's definitely been ups and downs but there have been opportunities in those ups and downs.

“It certainly has hit a lot of people hard.

“People still buy milk, there's still a demand, factories are competing for milk. That's good for us.

“The future is bright enough for people who can deal with the changes.”

Despite a tough few years, Phil said this season was looking promising.

“(Farm gate) prices, compared to where we were a few years ago, are good,” the Freedom Foods supplier said.

“That certainly helps a lot.

“This season is looking good so far. Touch wood.”