October 2010

The alpine trout business at Noojee proved a popular venue for the Women on Farms West Gippsland October farm visit.

This was the second local fish farm inspected. Previously we had been to an indoor barramundi enterprise at Garfield. By contrast, the Alpine Fish Farm covers a number of open hectares on the Latrobe River flats. The river is essential to the farm, with the operators licensed and regulated to use precious river water.

Trout of various species (brown, golden and rainbow) and salmon are raised to market size in a carefully managed series of holding ponds. The oxygen content of the pondages is critical to the health of the fish. Key determinant of the size of the fish, more so than age, is nutrition. Fish pellets sourced from Tasmania have proven to be key to rapid fish growth. The pellets are around 40% protein and are obviously highly palatable, by the frenetic response of the otherwise invisible fish when pellets are scattered over the ponds.

The Batarilos, Michael and Mate, have owned the farm since early 2009. While they were preceded by a number of previous owners, it appears that financial success of the business was elusive. When Mate explained the number of very costly inputs – electricity, water and heavy earth-working machinery, for example – it was more than evident that fish farming exceeds the usual farming overheads.

Most locals have visited the farm to purchase fresh fish or to try trout fishing from the heavily stocked ponds. Yet, the Melbourne fish markets and fish outlets are the main income sources. Others include the supply of trout youngsters to farm dam owners and to water management bodies such as Blue Rock Dam. Onsite, in addition to the raising ponds, there are facilities for the cleaning, smoking and sales of fish. Many WOF members took the chance to buy the prize product. The biggest delight of the day was a live catch! One of our more senior members threw in a line to haul back a trout in less time than it took to bait the hook!

The WOF group was most impressed with the energy and vision of the owners, and was equally grateful for the considerable time given to explaining the details of this fascinating local, rural enterprise.

Women of all ages are welcome to join Women on Farms. The key criterion is an interest in farming and farming women – no need to be a farmer to participate. Our November activity is a multi-day series of farm visits in the Bairnsdale area, for which prior bookings have now closed. Phone our Secretary for more details – Jean Irvine on 56221236, or, for information about the calendar of activities go to the website www.womenonfarms.org

For enquiries about this article, contact: Mary Hughes, Ph. 03 5628 4195.