At the Red Meat Updates in Tasmania, speaker Piers Dumaresq covered scaling up, “Without having to just necessarily buy more land and take on huge debt.” In just six years, the self-proclaimed reformed “banker wanker” has scaled his generational family farm from 300 hectares under pivot and about 2,000 breeding ewes to 360 hectares under pivot and 4,500 breeding ewes. To accomplish this, Piers brought a “skilling up” mindset; to succeed as a 21st-century farmer, he continues to learn new skills that will enhance his bottom line.
Piers’ family has been farming their original land grant since 1835. His father took over from his father in about 1980, after which Piers and his wife returned to the family farm about six years ago. The pair had previously been in Sydney, with Piers spending about 15 years in the investment banking/finance space, and his wife working as a lawyer.
The 1,400 hectare mixed livestock and cropping farm still possesses “stone barns, a big old stone granary, big old horse stables, and all the stuff that comes with 19th-century farms. Hedge paddock rows, oak trees… it’s like a little bit of England on the other side of the world,” said Piers.
Tracking changes on the farm
As beautiful as the farm’s living history is, by the time Piers assumed control, one Victorian-era system was hampering the farm’s growth. When he “took over the accounting system,” Piers found that his father was “essentially running the same system as they were in the 1850s, because it was literally just rows and columns in a book.”
So, how did Piers create such growth for this historical farm? By crunching the numbers. In his words, Piers’ philosophy is to “analyze the numbers, work out the return, and then continue to innovate, rather than just doing what you think you should be doing.”
Piers uses the data he stores in AgriWebb to generate easily accessible records for his analysis. In one instance, that analysis quickly led to Piers realising the efficiency of his sheep operation; the ROI on ewes is “about 60%, so it’s a big figure to play with.” As a result of that streamlined record keeping and analysis, today the farm has a 4,500 head breeding first-cross ewe flock, and produces “between 5,000 and 6,000 lambs a year.”
The farm also crops a rotation of poppies, peas, grass seed, and clover seed. They also cultivate “small areas of high-value vegetable seed, like carrot, cabbage, beetroot. That’s been working quite well for.” To continue succeeding, Piers’ commitment to the numbers means allowing declining poppy prices to dictate an imminent change to his rotation.
Everyday efficiency: the low-hanging fruit that adds up to big improvements
From introducing the Simmental cattle breed into Australia, via the region’s first stud, to being an early implementer of center pivot irrigation in Tasmania in the 1980s, the farm’s historical roots lie in its technological progressiveness.
Moving beyond upgrading the farm’s accounting system, Piers’ current plans include connecting his entire farm with WiFi, using each pivot center’s high spec Valley computer to relay the signal. With the new Valley computers’ built-in WiFi repeaters, the farm will eliminate “a lot of man-hours literally just driving between these things hitting start.” Piers is eagerly awaiting the release of a commercially available product which has evolved beyond remote machine start-stop functionality into options such as “change your water rate” or “turn water on and off.”
“Drones are going to be big,” Piers foresees, “but, that’s pretty basic technology. When it gets a bit smarter… so they can fly around, identify a problem, and then alert you to it, rather than just you having to watch your screen, that could be interesting. That would just save us a heap of time.”
For now, Piers considers “the low-hanging fruit” to be management applications. One example Piers offered was using AgriWebb to do feed budgets, “I just click in and can see Feed on Offer. Having that info at hand is awesome.”
Far from complicating his life as farm manager, he’s found a “really easy, simple user interface” in AgriWebb. This allows anyone on his farm to add information to a list, or to simply drag items from one page to another. “This is one of the reasons I love AgriWebb,” said Piers. “People love to talk about all the Sci-Fi stuff and robots, and it’ll happen. But, the low-hanging fruit is just as efficient.”
With an eye to the future, Piers said he’d “love to see AgriWebb one day as hub of the whole farm.” For Piers Dumaresq, a revolutionary manager of a farm steeped in history, AgriWebb has “changed the way I keep records and make decisions.”