Farming is a fundamental activity, in that it is a close management of life’s essentials – soil, water, sunshine, animals, plants and human endeavour. However, technology definitely has a vital place. In fact, agriculture can be very high tech indeed. In many instances it is technology and farmers’ capacity to innovate and change which can lead to great advances and success.
Visiting an award winning, sustainably run dairy farm was proof of this. At Drouin South on ‘Minniebanks Springs’, the Mills family has a 3 unit robotic dairy. Solar power is collected, effluent is stored, treated then re-distributed as a soil improver, and fences are simple electric wires. Use of a camera equipped drone assists in monitoring changes and recording progress.
Trevor and Anne-Marie Mills with their two children, Andrew and Kelly, run this picturesque 122ha (305 acre) property, milking 195 cows in peak times. Since taking over the farm from his parents in the 1990s Trevor aimed to enhance the environmental aspects of the farm by protecting all remnant vegetation from livestock and creating extensive new habitat for nature. All waterways have been fenced and turned into wildlife corridors. Bird and animal life are now abundant and in coexistence with the dairy herd.
In 2014 a decision to replace a herringbone dairy with robotics was based largely on reducing reliance on human labour. Three years on the cattle are calmer at milking times and Trevor reports the dairy is performing smoothly.
In recent years the Mills’ revegetated wildlife areas, protected waterways and treed, healthy paddocks have won regional, Victorian and national recognition under Landcare awards.
‘Minnieburn Springs” is a delight to visit, with its healthy paddocks, stands of native timber and distant views. Importantly, as a 2nd generation farmer, Trevor has prepared the farm for passing on to the next generation. Not only is milk produced but calves are raised for the export market. Should the children continue with the farm, the balance of modern practices with inherent respect for the environment will be theirs to continue.