Meet the Finalists - Dave Caldwell & Coonmoor Pastoral Co.
Coonmoor Pastoral Company has been part of the Gippsland farming landscape for multiple generations, and in that time, has worked through many dry seasons, industry changes and the general everyday challenges of life on the land.
Around four years ago, Dave Caldwell joined the business owned by his wife’s family, and together with two other branches of the McArthur family, the Caldwell duo run the farm at Lindenow South.
In this time, Dave’s approach to sustainable agriculture, collaboration, community engagement and innovation has not gone unnoticed, and he is one of four finalists in the 2020 Food & Fibre Gippsland Young Agribusiness Leader of the Year, whilst the Coonmoor Pastoral Company is a finalist in the Excellence in Adaption to Change award.
Faced with an ongoing dry seasons in East Gippsland, Dave and Ellie looked at all options to make the business more sustainable amongst the impact of little or no rainfall for months on end.
To support their beef and lamb enterprise at Lindenow South, they moved from dryland to irrigated agriculture in 2019.
Dave readily admits they were forced, rather than chose to change, but at the same time, feels he was less risk averse and could see the potential available to their business as a result of investing in irrigation.
Whilst the dry seasons played a part in this decision, it was also driven by wanting to even out the seasonal variations in the business and to ensure that their livestock is mostly grass-fed through consistent fodder supply.
All these things combined provided greater sustainability in their product and more control over timing of supply to adjust to fluctuations in the market.
The decision to go from complete dryland to add 150HA irrigated with groundwater was considered quite a unique path to take given there was no irrigation originally, so the relevant approvals and subsequent necessary process took around two years to finalise, but according to Dave, it’s created a number of win-win scenarios.
He said “ultimately it’s ensuring higher standards of animal welfare, better for the environment – and it’s given us greater scope for what we can do with our livestock “
“Having irrigated pasture has led to a significant increase on the improved area; from 13-15 to 45-55 DSE/Ha and given us a lot more flexibility in what to sell when, with a larger proportion of animals now produced for slaughter, rather than store stock“.
Within the Gippsland Agriculture Group, there is a six-year trial underway in partnership with Agriculture Victoria and the MLA, looking at perennial and multi-species pasture, which Dave believes has the potential to have multiple benefits for a range of farming operations.
“Within these trials, we’re looking very closely at the improvements to total production, soil health, in particular, soil carbon – and then it will be interesting to see the impact of that on animal condition “he said.
Driven by informed decisions based on sustainable business practice, Dave keeps a constant check on how best to work with the land.
Having benefited from the investment and improvements made to the Lindenow South operation, he is keen to see other farmers in East Gippsland improve their on-farm practices to enjoy greater productivity.
He feels the ‘terms of trade’ are more challenging these days and pragmatic adaptation is necessary to be viable.
A big believer in building capacity and community resilience, Dave is always keen to share his learnings and experience with other farmers to improve the industry and the region.
“When the next drought comes – which it will – we’ll be more prepared – and I’d like to help others be in that position as well” he said.
Supported by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation for the 2nd running, The Young Agribusiness Leader of the Year recognises an agribusiness leader in the region who is 35 years or younger and has achieved excellence in their field and demonstrated leadership, courage, passion and foresight while contributing to the agribusiness industry and region.
The prize is the opportunity to complete a Training Rural Australians In Leadership (TRAIL) course run by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, valued at $10,450.
The Adaption to Change award, sponsored by Wellington Shire Council, recognises farming operation that have adapted to internal or external change, proven resilience and/or overcome environmental challenges.