THE outskirts of Wagin is an ideal location for farming, according to fifth and sixth-generation farmers Malcolm and son Raymond Edward.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.
This week they will begin their seeding operation – expecting to plant about 700 hectares of wheat, 250ha of barley, 300ha of oats and 150ha of lupins.
Raymond, who manages the farm these days, said they had decided not to plant canola this year because it was marginal if they were going to get a viable yield.
Instead they have decided to increase their lupin crop to provide more feed for their sheep flock if the dry season continues longer than expected.
Seeding is expected to take about 20 days.
“Hopefully we get more rain before that but there’s not much out there in the forecast,” Raymond said.
“It’ll be good to get another 5-10 millimetres before seeding.
“But we may not see any until the end of May – maybe.”
The dry weather had forced them to feed their sheep flock over the summer months which was a lot earlier than normal.
“We stopped feeding in July last year and began again in November,” Malcolm said.
“We didn’t have any feed left.
“In a normal year we start in February – it was just down to the tight winter we had last year.”
Raymond said they were feeding out about 20 tonnes a week, using a combination of lupins, hay and oats.
“It’s costing about $100 a day feeding out,” Raymond said.
“The bigger sheep producers are spending about $1000 a day in feeding out.”
Raymond said they hadn’t started to destock yet and were still going through their “normal pattern” – but if things got dramatically worse they would start sending the sheep in for processing.
The family farm dates back to the early 1900s, when Malcolm’s late wife Yvonne’s family (the Murdochs) bought the property and named it after the Belmont Racecourse.
Since then the property has grown in size with a few additions to operate a mixture of cropping and sheep enterprises.
Raymond said two separate farms were within the one business, but were operating differently.
The main farm covers about 1800ha, while the other farm about two kilometres away is 1100ha.
Because the separate farms operate independently they reduce the biosecurity risks that could occur with the transfer of sheep or weeds from one to another.
Malcolm said last year’s harvest yields were above average for Wagin, at 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
He put the result down to their location where they averaged 430mm of annual rainfall, which provided an environment where they didn’t see the weather variations that other areas experienced.
“We don’t normally have the bumpy years the Wheatbelt gets,” Malcolm said.
The Edwards harvested a variety of crops last year including 800ha of wheat, 200ha barley, 250ha canola, 250ha oats and 100ha lupins, as well as oaten hay.
“We grow the lupins for stock feed,” Malcolm said.
“We feed out to keep the condition score up when they need it.
“Some years we make up to 500 bales of hay depending on the season.”
Although the farm has been well established for many years the Edwards still continue to improve the land and make better use of what they have available.
Raymond said they had hired a contractor, with a reefinator, to go over a 40ha paddock earlier this year.
“It’s the first time we have used it,” he said.
“We picked up an extra 10ha that hadn’t been in use.
“The reefinator helps to improve the soil, so next year we will plant the paddock out in wheat.”
In 2005, about the same time as a Wagin/Woodanilling landcare project that saw one million shrubs planted, Raymond said they planted 40,000 Eyres Green saltbushes on their marginal country.
“It has been well and truly worth it,” he said.
“The vitamin E benefits are good for young sheep – which they tend to lack later in the year.
“We let them graze for about four to five days which gives them enough vitamin E to see them through.”
The saltbush has been described as a valuable addition for livestock grazing, because of its resilience in marginal areas unsuited to cropping, as well as a tool to enhance conservation and biodiversity on farm.
Raymond said they would continue their planting program as they seek to utilise the more salt affected areas of the farm.
The Edwards operate the Belmont Park stud, which Malcolm said was one of the oldest studs in the State – dating back to 1932.
Malcolm said they had increased their stocking rate last year due to the market prices for wool and sheep meat.
They run 8500 head in their commercial flock, including 4200 Merino ewes, 1500 ewe hoggets, 1300 wether hoggets, 800 mature aged wethers and about 450 Poll Dorset lambs.
They also supply about 950 wethers to the export market every year.
Malcolm said the sheep were run in age groups – with the five-year-olds being mated to Poll Dorset rams and after shearing in July, are scheduled to go to Fletchers International for processing.
“We are getting excellent prices,” Malcolm said.
“We are not seeing the variations that we use to see in the market.
“There’s always a market for good condition sheep.”
Malcolm said they were in lambing season from early May until mid July and they would provide supplementary pellets for the ewes from 0.5 kilogram to 1kg per head “depending on how far off lambing they were”.
The Edwards achieve about an 85 per cent average lambing rate.
“We sometimes come in over 100pc,” Malcolm said.
He said the Poll Dorset breed provided for “good fat prime lambs” which they were after in their breeding.
Malcolm said the lambs dropped in June/July 2017 had been run as its own mob until January/February, with the top lambs being seperated for a few weeks until they reached the 22 kilogram killing weight, at which time they would send them to the processor.
“They averaged far better than what you get in the yards,” Malcolm said.
“So far we averaged $100-$150 a head for those dropped last year.”
Malcolm said they carted the lambs to the processor in consignments of about 40 head to avoid freight costs and by selling direct they reduced their costs for yard fees at the saleyards.
He said they shear once a year and the largest quantity of wool they had produced in one season was 280 bales.
The micron average for wool was 19.8, but the range was between 14 (for lambs) and 21.5.
“Hoggets usually achieve about 18 micron,” he said.
The farm has a four-stand shearing shed, which they also open to the community for meetings.
Raymond said they always employed contract shearers but they did their own penning of the sheep, as well as classing and pressing of the wool.
“It is hard work in the shed,” Raymond said.
“It is constant and full-on.
“But doing it ourselves saves money and gives us control over the final product sent to the woolstores.”
The Edward family has also been involved in the local Wagin community for many years.
Wagin Woolorama came in to being in 1972 after Malcolm, from the Wagin Agricultural Society, attended an agricultural machinery field day and realised that Wagin needed to have its own feature.
Malcolm was recognised as a life member of Wagin Woolorama.
He has also been involved in the Stud Merino Breeders’ Association of WA and was made an honorary life member in 2007.
He was elected president of the association in 1995 and represented WA breeders on a national level.