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TAS Country : February 10th 2011
uary 11, 2011 17 view to the future THIS LAND with Jennifer Crawley My favourite place is up on top of the hill, a place called the Picnics, where you can see the whole farm.' ---ALEX CLARKE,QUORN HALL ABOVE: Alex Clarke on the satellite controlled tractor he uses for sowing. FAMILY FARM: The Clarke family at Quorn Hall, Tom, left, who looks after livestock, Mandy, who does the books and the extensive garden, and Alex, who is responsible for cropping. TOM, Mandy and Alex Clarke are Midlanders who go about the business of farming without a fuss. The Clarkes run a large diversified farming operation at Quorn Hall east of Campbell Town. Quiet, unassuming and astute, Tom was one of the first Tasmanian farmers to use centre pivot irrigation, one of the first to use recycled water for cropping and one of the first to diversify his farming business. The Clarkes' ancestor William John Turner Clarke came to Tasmania in 1828. WT Clarke went on to become the richest man in the colony, buying up large tracts of land in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and New Zealand. ''He was more of an acquirer than a farmer,'' Tom said. Quorn Hall, built in 1834, is an imposing sandstone mansion set on manicured grounds, the kitchen is lived in, push bikes lean against the garage wall, a well-used barbecue is under cover and the washing on the Hills hoist is work socks, work shorts and work shirts. The 100-square sandstone house has a highly polished parquetry floor made from blackwood cut from the property. ''I wouldn't want to live anywhere else,'' Mandy, 54, said. Sheep have grazed on the paddocks of the 7500ha property for seven generations but the land use has diversified under Tom's guidance. Alex is responsible for much of the cropping and Tom for livestock but father and son work as one when it comes to the farm. The Clarkes grow barley for brewing companies Cascades and Boags. ''It's been really hard with the weather conditions getting harvesting done due to the constant rainfall and getting the moisture right,'' Alex said. They grow feed wheat for finishing lambs, shut the paddocks up and harvest the seed, and sell the oats to clients with race horses. The Clarkes reduced their barley growing area from 600ha to 300ha because of their expansion into poppies. They grow 270ha of poppies for Glaxo Smith and Tas Alkaloid. Alex, 27, calls his dad Tom and says they have a good working relationship. ''He's pretty helpful; we have an understanding,'' Alex said. Alex has always wanted to be on the farm and said he knows every corner of the large property. ''My favourite place is up on top of the hill, a place called the Picnics, where you can see the whole farm,'' Alex said. Sheep on Quorn Hall are Merino with breeding replacement ewes and Border Leicester lambs. The main focus is on the meat market, and the sheep are dual purpose for wool and meat. There are 10,000 breeding ewes plus lambs and Auction Plus is used to sell stock. ''We also have clients come back every year to buy the Border Leicester ewes,'' Tom said. They fatten the wether Border Leicester Merino crosses, sell them in August each year as fat lambs and the ewes are shorn in May. Five shearers work at Quorn Hall each season. Mandy helps with lamb marking, the farm bookwork and manages the grounds. ''It takes me all day on the sit-on mower,'' she said. Quorn Hall managed to weather the long drought thanks to their on-farm water storage. They have 2000ML on-farm storage with dams and water rights out of the Elizabeth River. ''Water storage is very important to get you through the dry periods,'' Alex said. ''We came through reasonably well in the drought,'' Tom said. The Clarkes didn't have to reduce sheep numbers but lost all 400 breeding cows. ''We've just started back into them,'' Tom said. ''We've got 50 and we are just going to slowly build them back to 200.'' Workforce on the farm ranges between two and four men. ''Farming is always a challenge,'' Tom said. ''You never know what's around the corner,'' Alex said. ''The weather either makes you or breaks you and rain's god,'' Tom said. The Clarkes have changed their tillage practice in response to the changing climate and have been direct drilling for seven years. They have 40 centre pivot irrigation sites with 1215ha under irrigation. They have nine centre pivots that are moved annually. The machines sit in the one place over the year. ''We are not cropping the one paddock continuously,'' Tom said. ''We're spelling them for four or five years before being cropped again.'' The cropped paddocks go back to pasture for the sheep. ''We're probably cropping 12 paddocks a year and irrigating 12 paddocks then the other pivot sites are being spelled or having a dryland crop in them,'' Tom said. Poppies are being harvested in 11 paddocks over the next three weeks at Quorn Hall. The poppies suffered a little waterlogging and wind damage in the recent heavy downpours but the Clarkes say they have still had a pretty good poppy growing season with the constant rain. Alex attended Agricultural College in Geelong, Victoria and worked in England on farms for three years. ''I liked it but I'd never ever want to live there,'' he said. ''I reckon they're over populated.'' Alex has been busy getting ready a 70ha paddock about to be sowed for poppies. ''We try to keep disturbance to a minimum to protect from blowing, we'll plant oats then direct drill the poppies,'' he said. The three-year-old tractor he uses to sow cereal has a satellite tracking steering system that self- steers the tractor in a straight line. ''It saves fuel costs and time and you don't have to steer the tractor,'' Alex said, who sits in the massive tractor up to 10 hours a day in sowing season.
February 3rd 2011
February 17th 2011