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TAS Country : August 26th 2010
16 Friday, Augu On Farm CERES PLEA: Michael Isles of Ceres could see the drought creepin Ceres near Oatlands was one of the grand estates of Tasmanian colonial agriculture, but drought and changing times in farming have forced a smaller, leaner and more diversified operation. TOUGH: Michael Isles says farming is a lote harder than it used to be. Unreaso land THIS Jennifer Crawley HIDDEN away in the rolling hills of the Southern Midlands is the original land grant of Ceres. The property is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture and the boat that brought the area's original settlers to Tasmania in the 1840s. The family home, a sandstone mansion, is surrounded by pastures dotted with Corriedales, paddocks ready for sowing and pockets of native bush on the flats and in the hills. A large block of outbuildings is attached to the main house, where a baker and blacksmith once toiled and where early settlers grew oats and once operated a dairy. Michael Isles, 53, is the owner of Ceres. His father and grandfather bought the 830ha property in 1954, reduced over the years from the original grant of 12,140ha. Michael can see many of the paddocks and pastures from the imposing windows of the main bedroom of the homestead. The walls are made of sandstone quarried at Ross. Internal and external walls are 457mm solid blocks. Ceilings are 4.5m high and the main house is 75 squares. The doors are made of oregon pine used as ballast in the first boats. ''The early settlers didn't like the oregon pine so they painted grain on them to make them look like English timbers,'' Michael said. The original workshop in the outbuildings still is used by Michael's wife Janene for gardening equipment. The Isles family run a self-replacing flock of Corriedale ewes, prime lambs and a cropping operation. They ran cattle up until the drought. ''We baled out of those because it was not economical to keep feeding them for years,'' Michael said. Poppies and grass seeds crops were planted but the poppies were lost in the drought. ''We replaced a livestock enterprise with a cropping enterprise in the middle of a drought,'' Michael said. ''It was a nice way of getting rid of some money.'' Recent rains have come just at the right moment for the Isles, Michael said. ''We were right on the edge of going back into drought,'' he said. ''You could see it slowly creeping up the highway, and on the hills that separate Oatlands and Jericho, the drought over the back was coming this way, it was just perfect the timing for the rain.'' Ceres is not part of the Midlands irrigation scheme; the Isles rely on dams they have paid for. Price will determine if the Isles buy into the proposed Arthurs Lake pipeline, which will go through their property. Water will sell for about $1100ML for a summer take and $600 to $700 for a winter take from the pipeline. Michael said he is weighing up buying 300ML of water. ''Then I have to pay an amount for each megalitre I use, that original money is only for the right to store it in my dams,'' he said. ''There's a lot of people around here who would like to do it but the financial side of it determines if they do it and also the cropping options. ''Can you afford to go in with all the big infrastructure if you can't lock in the contracts for crops like poppies and grass seed? ''It's getting better but it's a bit like the poppy seeds -- up and down. ''One year they want so many hectares, then the next year they might say sorry, you've had a 30 per cent cut. ''That makes it very hard to budget big expenditures -- if you don't know what the long-term future of contracts are of production.'' Farming has changed over the years, Michael said. ''It's a lot harder than what it used to be, the seasons don't seem to be quite as consistent and there's a lot of red tape,'' he said. ''We nearly need to breed animals with bigger ears to fit all the tags in.'' Michael said farmers have come to the conclusion that they are price- takers not makers. ''No matter how much we bash our heads against a brick wall to try to change it it's not going to change,'' he said. ''We are losing control over our own destinies, there's so much red tape and regulation.'' There are four Isles children. The eldest Alexander, 24, works on a neighbour's property at Tunbridge and helps his dad on Ceres. ''I love living here,'' Michael said. ''We are secluded yet we are 15 minutes from Oatlands and an hour from the East Coast. ''I can be fishing in the Western Lakes in two hours. Anyone else in Australia would love to be able to do that.'' Michael's father, Mick, helps on
August 19th 2010
September 2nd 2010