LIKE the Divinyls’ rock hit from the decade he started as manager of Epasco Farms, Condingup, Rod Taylor’s last wool clip caused him some pleasure and pain.
“It was a frustrating shearing because we had a lot of rain interruptions and there’s a lack of staff in the shearing industry,” said Mr Taylor, last week at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) to watch 353 bales sold from the last clip he will produce.
Mr Taylor will retire at the end of March after 37 years as manager of the 14,820 hectare sheep, cattle and cropping enterprise owned by a family in Germany.
“Normally I run two shearing sheds, an eight (stand) and a four (stand), but it wasn’t possible to run both this year so we only ran the eight which meant shearing (in October) was stretched out a lot longer than normal,” Mr Taylor said.
“We couldn’t get the shearers.
“Our contractor lost some shearers because of the price increase for shearing Merinos in New Zealand – some of his team went back home.
“I did the sums and what I pay for shearing is pretty well what they would earn back in New Zealand.”
Mr Taylor said the main shearing and a hogget shearing in September came after a “reasonably difficult” dry season testing his farm management skills.
“We were feeding grain and fodder well into July and August and then the rains came,” he said.
“We had to buy some hay in for the cattle but for the sheep we had just enough of our on-farm fodder put away.”
This year there were also more sheep to feed as his confidence in the future of wool was boosted several years ago by what he saw on an Elders-organised woolgrowers’ tour of China and the wool processing industry there.
“I’ve been building the flocks up for the past two years after the China trip with Elders and we maxed out with about 52,000 sheep this year,” he said.
“We’ve just started mating 20,500.”
But Mr Taylor said the ‘pain’ was worth it for the ‘pleasure’ of seeing the Epasco clip sold for the best prices it had ever generated.
“These are absolutely the best wool prices I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“I’ve lived through the Japanese wool market and the reserve price scheme and all the rest of the trends, but this is the best.
“We’ve sold wool forward, we’ve been selling wool over the past three months, we’ve got a pretty good average of nearly $15 a kilo sweep the boards.
“We’re pretty happy with that.”
Last week’s auction maintained his average.
The high yielding Epasco fleece, averaging about 20.5 microns and staple length of between 90 and 100 millimetres, sold to a top of 1532 cents a kilogram greasy and most of the bigger lines sold for 1480c/kg or more.
Six lines were passed in at auction but two sold immediately afterwards.
Epasco Farms was bought by the Springoram family in May 1980.
Mr Taylor was appointed manager in March, 1982.
He took charge of a much smaller operation running 19,000 sheep, 850 Angus cattle – now 1140 – and a small cropping area to produce fodder for the livestock.
Now there is a 2500ha program with canola just harvested at 1.8 tonnes per hectare, oats and barley being harvested and yielding well and wheat still to come.
Including Mr Taylor, Epasco Farms employs seven people.
His early decisions were to dissolve an existing Angus stud operation and to buy more land.
Since then the Epasco business program has been 50pc sheep and wool, 25pc cattle and 25pc cropping.
“In the 1980s we were going through a development stage like everybody else down here – Beaumont north of us was the last CP (conditional purchase) land that was ever released in the State,” Mr Taylor said.
“We had all the approvals to clear the scrub, but we stopped developing and redirected the funds into buying neighbouring farms,” he said.
“We purchased three of them because it was cheaper to buy developed land than doing the development ourselves.”
Instead of clearing trees, Epasco Farms under Mr Taylor’s stewardship strategically planted trees.
“We’ve been reclaiming land and salt affected areas with replanting which is fully supported by the German owners.
“We’ve been planting natives at a rate of 15,000 to 20,000 trees a year for 37 years – up and down laneways and in areas that need protection and that program will continue,” he said.
Mr Taylor has been involved with three generations of the Springoram family.
The original couple, aged 83, are alive and well in Germany and their three sons own the farm.
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“They just love the farm, they’ve come out maybe twice a year for the past four years with their kids.
“Springoram family representatives were here only last month, they came out and met the new manager,” he said.
Nick Ruddenklau, who manages The Oaks, a 5000ha mixed farming enterprise near Gibson, will be Mr Taylor’s replacement as manager at Epasco Farms.
“Generally once the annual program and the budget has been approved, it’s been my farm to carry it out, so it’s been a terrific, unique position,” he said.
“No money ever comes into the farm from Germany and no money ever leaves, it’s all reinvested on the farm.
“All the investment on the farm’s infrastructure is generated from farm revenue – we spend a lot of money on maintenance and replacements in the annual program.
“It’s a complex farm to run with geographical, soil type and rainfall differences – it’s 30 kilometres in length and 15 kilometres across.
“My position was fully responsible for the investment in Australia, there were no consultants involved, everything has been on my shoulder and my decision.
“It’s been very satisfying, I’m pretty happy with it.
“I’m leaving it in good shape.”
Mr Taylor and his wife Kim – who has been on Epasco Farms the whole time and responsible for much of the administration – have bought a house in Esperance they plan to retire to.
Mr Taylor will be available to help the new manager until July and he has a couple of community projects at Condingup he wants to complete.
But apart from those there are no firm plans.
“There’s an old saying, you’ve got to have something to retire to and not to retire from – I just haven’t found the ‘to’ yet,” he said.