11 December 1998

Going down-under was the only way to a bigger herd

Milk is enjoying a healthy market in New South Wales,

reports Scott Young, who moved to the region from

Scotland at the beginning of 1997. The Australian lifestyle

and bone-health publicity helped

IT was the desire to give their two sons a chance to farm that prompted Scott and Jean Young to cast their eyes towards New South Wales, Australia.

Scott was running a 70-head (+ followers) dairy herd on 80ha (200 acres) near Biggar, south of Edinburgh. His two sons Thomas (now 34) and Robin (now 31) wanted to farm and the family looked at buying a second farm in the area. But that was ruled out by the huge cost involved, so the Youngs began the lengthy process of looking at farms in other countries.

They settled on the New South Wales area of Australia, a region they knew from previous travels. A month was spent in 1996 touring farms in the state and by Christmas they had bought two neighbouring dairy farms totalling 100ha (245 acres) near Muswellbrook, two-and-a-half hours north of Sydney.

Land cost averaged Aus$6000/acre (£2076/acre). He could have bought land more cheaply, he says, but it wouldnt have been nearly as productive. In fact this farming area sounds as far from the commonly-held notion of Australian farms being vast arid prairies as it is possible to be. Topsoil is 9m (30ft) deep, annual rainfall is 63.5cm (25in) and the growing season is 330 days long.

Weather is more extreme than the UK, with summer temperatures this year peaking at 44C (111F) and winter temperatures falling to about 2C (36F). The Youngs are fortunate to have irrigation over the whole farm and an 800m litre (175m gals) permit to take water out of the local river. While the only cost is that of pumping it out, the need to irrigate every day this summer was costly, he admits.

The dairy herd has been gradually built up from 110 cows at the outset to 180 now. They hope to raise that to 250 by the end of this year. Australia has a similar milk quota system to the UK and the Youngs had to buy in milk quota at 55C (19p)/litre.

Australian lifestyle

So what are the prospects for dairying in Australia? "Milk prices have slipped by 3C (1p)/litre since July 1, when the milk market here was deregulated," he says. "However, we are still getting the equivalent of 27p/litre and the Australian lifestyle and widespread publicity for the importance of milk for healthy bones means that its in good demand."

With cows staying out all year and forage in great abundance, costs are also somewhat lower than in Scotland. Milk output is now running at 4000 litres (900gals) a day and they are confident about the future. There are some aspects of Scottish life they miss, of course, but as Scott says: "No-one loves Scotland more than us, but we had to look to the future."