Field day for Gippsland farmers

Stefan Bradley

ORGANIC producers Wilandra Farms hosted a field day for the public last month, to learn more about renewable energy projects on farms and the opportunities a reduced carbon footprint will bring to the region.

The field began with a conference session at The Stables in Sale at 8.45am, with experts on dairy farming and renewable energy together under one roof. More than 200 delegates, mostly farmers, sat down to listen to speakers such as Lachlan Monsbourgh from Rabobank, Gabriel Hakin from AgVet Energy, Farmers for Climate Action chair Charlie Prell, and Steve Soutar of AEI. Moragh Mackay was the master of ceremonies for the proceedings.

After finishing up, there was a rendezvous at the farm itself in Clydebank at 1.15pm for lunch and to listen to more speakers. There was also an opportunity to network, and take a look at solar panels, wind turbines, automation of centre pivots, the energy management system, an electric side-by-side vehicle, and a hydrogen-powered generator.

Wilandra Farms owners, Wilco Droppert and Sandra Jefford, also spoke throughout the day to discuss steps to minimise emissions.

Ms Jefford told the Gippsland Times she was very happy at the turnout, and hoped attendees would see that renewable energy is a good option on a lot of farms.

“We’ve got a total of 200 kilowatts of solar panels on the ground, and it doesn’t take up that much space,” she said.

“So do an assessment and see whether it’s going to work on your farm.”

Ms Jefford said that agricultural industries had a large role to play in reducing emissions.

“There’s a lot we can do in terms of energy efficiency, using renewable energy, storing more carbon in the soil, planting trees that are going to store carbon long-term,” she said.

“We all just need to learn from each other and see what we can do.”

The solar panels have dramatically reduced Wilandra Farm’s energy bills, according to Ms Jefford.

“In previous seasons we were spending $80,000 (a year) for irrigation, which was too much for a farm of our size. But last year, our irrigation bill was only $1200.”

“The money we were paying for energy bills we would shift to equipment finance loans, and in seven years when that’s paid off, we’ve got completely free power.”

The farm also has new wind turbines that benefit from an easterly wind nearly every afternoon from the Gippsland Lakes to complement the solar panels.

Mr Droppert hoped that farmers would consider the possibilities.

“Look at how you can reduce your demand for energy first,” he said.

“Ideally, locate newable energy in a central location, close to as much load as possible.

“Use power when it’s generated, and load shift to avoid the need for batteries.”

Mr Prell spoke about how small-to-mid scale renewable energy projects like the one at Wilandra Farms are a good outcome for communities and farmers, while also reducing emissions.

“I’ve had a really positive reaction to the initiative I called for… (which was) for people to start agitating their local government, the council, to advocate for small-to-medium sized renewables like (at Wilandra Farms),” Mr Prell told the Gippsland Times.

“The renewables are really expensive to build, and the transmitters, the grid, doesn’t really like small-scale, because it makes their job a lot harder.

“But it’s an essential part of the renewable revolution.

“Groups of farms or communities can get together and build microgrids in their own area to turbocharge the renewable revolution, and also minimise the need for large transmission lines.”

Ian Nicol was awarded $1000
GippsDairy EO Karen McLennan, dairy farmer Ian Nicol and Wilandra Farms co-owner Sandra Jefford after winning a contest for farmers to test their knowledge, Ian Nicol was awarded $1000.Photo: Contributed
Over 200 delegates
Over 200 delegates, mostly farmers, sat down to listen to speakers. Photo: Stefan Bradley
Tiah Capobianco, Luke Droppert, Wilco Droppert and Sandra Jefford.
Tiah Capobianco, Luke Droppert, Wilco Droppert and Sandra Jefford.
Photo: Stefan Bradley
In the afternoon, delegates gathered at Wilandra Farms
In the afternoon, delegates gathered at Wilandra Farms for lunch and more speakers. Photo: Stefan Bradley

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.