Posted by Sven Thelning on Jun 09, 2019
In March this year I was part of a team of six professionals from the agriculture and tourism industries who made the trip to Tasmania on a four-week Professional Development Exchange to visit leading farming and tourism operations. Juliana Baxter was our team leader who gave us the benefit of her experience as a Rotarian at Invercargill North, and as Visitor Manager at the incredible Bill Richardson Transport World. Also on the team was Luisa Kuresa of Bill Richardson Transport World, Angela Juergensen of Queenstown Resort College, contractor and Winton dairy farmer Lis Rietveld, high country Merino farmer Andrew Jopp of Alexandra, and myself, a dairy farm manager and compliance contractor. The team immediately bonded well, with thanks to some planning sessions with Dave McKissock, and much of the value from the trip was from bouncing ideas and observations off each other. The following article is a very brief summation of a just few of the incredible vocational visits which Rotary gave us access to.
 
 
The trip started when we landed in Launceston and the high quality of the farm visits was immediately apparent when we arrived at Landfall Angus Stud. Frank Archer was busy preparing for a bull sale the next day but generously gave up a couple of hours to show us his impressive operation. Frank is the latest generation to stamp his mark on the farm which sells bulls with a strong focus on commercially relevant traits as a result, Landfall set the Tasmanian record for a bull sale at $37,000 last year and shortly after our visit he doubled the record with a bull sold for $70,000. Frank developed the farm system by adding irrigation and fodder beet to increase production of bulls which makes the stud an attractive option for buyers from the mainland.

 
The visits were remarkable in their diversity of farming type and the synergy between agriculture and tourism was on display most prominently at Bridestowe Lavender farm. The 200km of lavender rows take six weeks to harvest, and then the flowers are processed through a still on the farm. From there the oil is used in a particularly wide range of value-added products from the usual soaps and fragrances to ice cream, scones and tea. One such product was a lavender filled bear called Bobby which was purchased by a social media influencer in China who gave it to his girlfriend. The implicit endorsement of the bear caused demand to spike overnight and production of the bear couldn't keep up with the demand. Visitor numbers also increased dramatically with people wanting to buy the bear and take "Insta-worthy" shots (click here to see) in the lavender fields which are 100 hectares of bright purple social media material. When we visited the rows of lavender were still impressive, although not purple due to recent harvest.
 
Angela Juergensen with a giant version of social media phenomenon Bobby the Bear.

Angela Juergenson, Rotarian Leigh Dyson, Andrew Jopp, and Sven Thelning talking farm systems with Mark Miers of Clovelly.
 
Next was a visit to Bridport where Ingleby's Clovelly dairy farm has two sheds on 3,556ha. The peak each season is 3,800 cows targeting 1.7 million kilograms of milk solids for the year. Ex-pat Kiwi Mark Miers is responsible for the dairy and his wife Sharni is in charge of rearing 2,750 calves. They focus on staff culture with their 40 staff getting involved in the community and as a result their staff turnover is low. They have well defined systems and procedures which are displayed on the walls.

The view from the club house at the world class golfing mecca, The Lost Farm, the second course built to cater for overflow demand from Barnbougle.
 
Later, we were fortunate to visit a spectacular example of agricultural diversification at Barnbougle Lost Farms Golf Course and had a couple of hours with owner Richard Sattler who built the two courses on previously unproductive sand dunes on the family farm. With a history of diversifying cattle and spud farming with hospitality, his first course became rated at number 11 in the world and he had to build the second course to meet demand. He also has a gravel airstrip able to cater for clients arriving on turboprops, and a DC-3 was due on Friday while a Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna 414 were on the ground while we were there. 
 

Lis Rietveld, host Mark Griffon, and Brian Lawrence discuss development history and plans on Brian's Meander Valley farm.
 
From Launceston we travelled to Deloraine, and visited the Meander Valley which is where some of Tasmania's best dairy farms are located. Most of the farms had been awarded dairy farmer of the year at least once. One particularly tidy farm we visited was Brian Lawrence's operation where we saw efficient use of feed as a tool to manage pasture, and careful selection of technology investment. 

Deloraine Rotarian Michael Ashgrove talks cheese innovation, consumer demand and marketing.
 
Deloraine Rotarian Michael Ashgrove gave us a tour of Ashgrove Cheese which is a vertically integrated family business which produces milk, butter and cheese which is sold around Australia. The business employs 70 people and when Ashgrove entered the liquid milk market they expanded rapidly at 26% per year which required a big investment in plant to keep up. The main cheese product is cheddar which is matured for between three months and two years. Tours form an important part of their brand recognition in a crowded market. There is good customer loyalty with Ashgrove being the only brand in Tasmanian fridges on our tour. Other innovations by Ashgrove included a 2L cream product so people could make their own butter, and freeze-dried cheddar balls called Amazeballs which are a more intensely flavoured natural alternative to potato crisps.

Truffle farmer Henry Terry with Bicky the dog.
 
While in Deloraine we had lunch at Australia's first truffle farm, Tasmanian Truffles, which is run by brother and sister team Henry and Anna Terry, and Doug the dog. We had a truffle hunting demonstration from a staff member and her dog Bicky who is a border collie that loves to chase a ball as a reward for finding the $1,500/kg delicacy.
Truffles are subterranean spore sacs which have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of oak or hazelnut trees. When they are ripe they have a strong scent which the dog can pick up and the handler then scratches about carefully in the dirt to avoid damage.
We had a chance to try some for lunch, along with their range of value-added truffle infused cheeses, balsamic, and oils. Smoked wallaby was also on the menu. As well as discussing truffles and dog training Anna and Henry gave an insight into their time on reality TV show My Kitchen Rules.
 

Truffles looked a bit like a dirt clod (above) and even smell 'earthy' but when a small amount is infused in balsamic vinegar (below) the addictive taste explains why they attract such a premium. The science of growing truffles is still in it's infancy so this industry is an exciting space.
 

Juliana Baxter, Cow 1090, and Luisa Kuresa discuss organic farming methods.
 
We were fortunate to visit two very different organic dairy farms during our time in Tasmania. Pictured above is Juliana Baxter and Luisa Kuresa getting to know Red Cow Organics cow 1090 who joined the conversation on dung beetles. Her human Andy Jackman described their organic system which involves walking past a dam full of platypus to get the cows in. A high end farm tourism product is in the planning stages, and the intention is to plant organic garlic. We had a taste of their cheese and much like the truffles it was another product which could easily justify charging the premium.
 
Red Cow Organics Persian Fetta (bottom in jar) and 'Jack' Cheddar (right with red wax), and Tilsit (far left).
 
We also had a look at Cameron Elphinstone's organic robotic dairy. The four robots milk 220 cows with ability to test for mastitis, rumination and heat detection.  The cows are pasture based but with silage at the shed by the robots. The cows come and go as they please, shifting between three paddocks with fresh grass always available as a reward for going through the robot.
All inputs must be certified organic including fertilisers, herbicides, drugs and fencing material.
 
Cameron Elphinstone's cows are rewarded with feed after being milked by a robot.
 

Grains from Tasmania's record holding Michael Nichol.
 
The north of Tasmania is generally considered too wet to grow grains efficeintly but nevertheless Michael Nichol grows them in a six year rotation of canola for pressing into oil on farm, as well as Australian record yields of wheat for the dairy industry which is dried on farm, pyrethrum for natural insecticide, poppies for opioids, and yellow mustard as a culinary cover crop among other rotational crops like potatoes to optimise soil health. Soil structure is enhanced by reincorporating organic matter.
 
Michael Nichols explains the canola pressing process.

Agronomist Kurt de Jong discusses the challenges of growing sugar beet in Australia with Smithton Rotarian Nigel Pedley and Smithton Rotary President Rick Tuck of VDL Ltd.
 
While hosted in the North-West corner of Tasmania we had a farm visit with Kiwi ex-pat Ricky Tuck who is President of the Rotary Club of Smithton and also Operations Manager of VDL Farms Ltd. VDL is the latest progression of what started out 200 years ago as Van Diemens Land Co. and is Australia's second oldest company although it has never been owned by Australians. They are Fonterra suppliers and are in the early stages of developing their own baby formula brand and fresh milk exports to China. About 20,000 in milk cows and up to 12,000 head of young stock are on roughly 14,000 effective hectares in a single block "Inside the Gate" on the North West tip of Tasmania as well as other farms in the area. The area is known for a massive wind farm and for a massacre of 30 aborigines by convict shepherds. An Aboriginal descendent, Laura Dabner, runs Woolnorth Tours which has exclusive access to the stunning but morbidly-named Cape Grim and Suicide Bay.
 
Andrew Jopp, Sven Thelning, Juliana Baxter, Angela Juergensen, Lis Rietveld, Luisa Kuresa, Laura Dabner of Woolnorth Tours, and Rick Tuck of VDL Ltd.
 
Sven Thelning, David Ford and Juliana Baxter admire a Cessna.
 
David Ford from the Rotary Club of Longford showed us around three modern sheep farms, two of which had new woolsheds in the last six years. The yards, crushes and jetters are all optimised for minimising labour with only one man sitting on a drench container needed for some tasks! David also had an air strip on his farm which his son Aaron operates a C182, C310, Pawnee and Garrett powered Thrush from.
 
Andrew Jopp, David Ford, and Sven Thelning discuss the latest in sheep handling devices and yard design.

The McShane's Merino cross flock in their preferred dry environment.
 
Andrew McShane at Stockman Stud runs Merino with his brother on 14,500ha just north of Hobart, of which 2,000ha is irrigated almost entirely by gravity fed dams which are continually filling from an irrigation scheme. As well as the Merino stud a big part of the business is selling Merino x White Suffolk lambs, as well as some grain to the dairy industry, and some cattle for beef. The nine full time staff have a lot of freedom to run their part of the business and some of them have worked there for 30 to 40 years.

These are just a few of the visits we had and while they are mostly on the agricultural side of the tour there were also some fantastic tourism operations which we had the pleasure to experience such as the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, the sombre Port Arthur World Heritage Site, and the Pennicott Adventures boat trip to Tasman Island. While it's not my area of expertise it was clear that the tourism team side of the team gained as much experience from this exchange as the agricultural side did, and from a tourist's point of view there's enough interest in Tasmania to fill in three or four weeks of holiday in the state.
 
It's hard to report properly on such a massive trip in just one article. It was an intensive experience with a huge variety of businesses in agriculture and tourism, each of which had a unique story or a genuine point of difference. Only Rotary could provide such face-to-face access to the owners and decision-makers in such a wide range of leading-edge operations. Many of the people who gave us the benefit of their expertise and experience went above and beyond with the information and advice they provided. I write this article ten weeks after returning from Tasmania and the sheer volume of ideas, innovations, and lessons with which we returned are only now beginning to properly sink in. We took pages of notes, and hundreds of photos and each member of the team gained a greater appreciation for the challenges and opportunities faced by agriculture and tourism in Tasmania which will inform each of us in our own professions. In the case of agriculture, Tasmania was different enough to be interesting but similar enough that lessons learned there can be applied here in New Zealand and this coming season we will be applying some Australian methods on farm. One example is 'lead feeding' where expectant dairy cows are fed with fortified fodder using the in-shed feeding system to keep their mineral levels at a healthy level to prevent animal health issues after calving. This method appears to be more effective than our present method of applying it as dust to the pasture. There are many other such ideas I have imported from Tasmania.
 
On behalf of all of the 2019 Professional Development Exchange Team from District 9980 I thank Rotary for providing this extraordinary programme and look forward to helping organise the next one.