Trent & Regina Gooden - PADDOCK PRECISION
Photography I Rosie O’Keeffe
Investment, diversification and innovation have been key to ensuring increased productivity in the Gooden family’s mixed farming enterprise at Lockhart in southern NSW. The progressive farmers explain their gains from increasingly incorporating precision agriculture technologies and introducing new genetics into their crop and livestock management plans.
Whether it’s having researched proven genetics in their ram purchases, or upgrading on-farm infrastructure and machinery to enable the introduction of new precision agriculture practices, Trent and Regina Gooden are reaping the rewards of adapting to changing climatic and market conditions to ensure the future profitability of their mixed farming enterprise.
With a family history farming in the Lockhart district, it was in 2001 that Trent and Regina purchased their first 440-hectare property, “Yirdeen”, east of the Riverina township and where they still live with their children Anikah, 21, Zak, 18, and Macey, 16.
Since then, they have purchased a further two properties to their enterprise, with 550ha at “Fairdeal”, and “South Bullenbong” is 404ha. It hasn’t been just the landscape, infrastructure and equipment that has expanded, with a passion for technology and innovation in the industry, last year Zak began studying a Diploma in Agriculture through TAFE and is now working more formally in the family business.
I interview the Gooden family at “Yirdeen” on a winter’s morning, where a mob of cross-bred ewe lambs have been yarded, and wheat sown in late autumn is emerging in nearby paddocks. My visit also coincides with a meeting with the Gooden family’s Delta Ag advisors, Livestock Manager Jon Bergmeier, Agronomy Consultant Tom De Mattia, and Precision Agriculture Technician Joel Costello, to discuss current conditions and outcomes for their sheep and crop production.
Whilst the Goodens have always farmed a mixed enterprise, the livestock operation has evolved and continued to grow over the years, and Trent admits, particularly through the drought years in 2018 and 2019, it was the continued development of lamb breeding and trading which further added value to the business.
“We’ve now experienced a few floods and drought years, in 2010 especially being so dry, we really noticed how much livestock kept us going, we were getting more for lamb then than a tonne of wheat,” Trent says, also recalling challenges faced during the drought of the early 2000s.
Trent says Merino ewes are run on all three properties. These are joined to Super Border Leicesters producing a first cross ewe which they retain with surplus sold. These are crossed with terminals, usually White Suffolks, however, the Goodens have begun using Charollais rams too, as well as Dorsets. Lambs are traded too, with mobs used on the stubble paddocks during summer, and barley harvested on-farm is mixed with lamb finisher pellets to finish lambs off.
“The improved pastures are lucerne based. It is a five-year pasture phase, but in the tougher years the strikes weren’t as good so we’ve been bringing them in a bit sooner. The last couple of years’ under sown pastures have been excellent. It has been great to see clover back the way it should be. We had a phenomenal lucerne paddock throughout the summer which was a blessing for these lambs.
“I think mixed farming suits us with our program and the land we are farming. I love the variety of work involved in our enterprise, whether its sheep work in the yards, the shearing shed or tractor work. We are also marketing the grain and we are involved in contracting too,” Trent says.
He explains that the ewes are joined for six to eight weeks and genetics has played a significant role in ensuring good conception and growth rates.
“We are really particular with the purchase of our rams. We buy twin rams in the terminals to create more of a chance of them throwing a twin themselves. We discovered the Charollais at the Henty Field Days with the view of getting more meat off the sheep and better yield to ensure a larger profit. They don’t look as big, but they yield great, and the growth rates and ease of lambing for the first cross ewes joined early at 7 months of age, between 55 and 65kg, joined solely to the Charollais for the ease of lambing. We do get good conception rates as well. This year we have 60 per cent with twins again.
“When we join our Merinos, all our scanning is done by twins and singles, we identify the twins and singles at marking and lamb them down separately and at marking time I give them another identification on them so we know which are twins and singles with the ewes. We prefer to keep the twin ourselves to create more lamb. With the first cross ewes section we do three lambings in two seasons.
“We turn off our lambs pretty heavy and push towards a heavy export line.”
Southern Meats at Goulburn often purchase from the Goodens, or livestock is sold through the saleyards at Wagga. Delta Ag Livestock Manager Jon Bergmeier has been advising the Gooden family on livestock matters since 2008.
As well as the Merinos, Regina has a herd of Angus cattle in the grazing paddocks at “South Bullenbong”.
The cropping program is planned on a five-year rotation – wheat, barley, lupins, canola… The varieties vary each year, with 150 hectares of legumes, barley for the lamb enterprise, and around 250 hectares of canola has been planted this season.
“Next year the wheat we plant will increase again. We are growing on a five-year rotation. Generally it starts with a wheat crop, then maybe a canola, and wheat to a barley, a legume to a canola, then another cereal grown… or we start with canola then move to wheat, barley and throw lupins back in. Generally coming out of the pasture phase we scratch oats and vetch in and prepare for hay.
“We’ve also been growing some grazing wheats to help feed in the early winter which is good for the stock. We’ve changed varieties of barley a bit in recent years, this year we have Spartacus in. We’ve also always done well with our oats and find it has low input costs, but has given us good yields. We’ve grown lupins for the past six years, and whilst we haven’t grown canola for a few years because it was put into hay bales in 2019, we have started growing that again this year, and we are also trying some grazing canola as well.”
“To have the crop planted and up we are halfway there now, but we really don’t want to be any wetter than what we are here now. The biggest challenge is spreading and spraying.”
Trent and Regina have maintained a focus on weed control in recent years.
“This year we’ve tried tillage radish which is up and going at the moment. We’ll graze that for a while and then lock it up and cut it for hay. That’s where we get the hay from for the livestock enterprise. It’s clean from weeds and has been a big factor in keeping ryegrass under control and has meant we haven’t been relying on chemicals as much. We still double knock and do all the right things… we have found in the last five years the paddocks are getting cleaner from weeds. Even the ryegrass we are still finding, it’s manageable through the cropping program.”
The Goodens have been innovative in their approach to farming practices and have made infrastructure investments, machinery and equipment purchases to adopt new technologies and they are now focusing on the benefits they have experienced through precision agriculture.
“We started soil testing a few years ago and Tom (De Mattia) suggested we also do paddock testing and map the paddocks into different sections to work out the phosperous and pH levels,” Trent explains.
Trent says data has been collected from the yields from last harvest and from the soil tests.
“With the fertilizer we input, we’ve now got the technology with the seeding gear to be variable rate. We tried 10 to 12 paddocks this year, with just fertilizer and they are all up and looking fine. We tried a bit last year with urea using biomass and throwing more on the parts of the paddocks with more potential and we noticed the yield difference coming through. With three good cropping seasons in a row, we expect nitrogen is going to be a big part of it too.”
Tom comments: “Compared to Wagga, out here at Lockhart the soil types are so different within a paddock, so to split by zone using the crop imagery is really beneficial. The hardest part is actually investing in the technology, but the Goodens have done that.”
In the last 12 months the Goodens have upgraded their chaser bin and spreader, purchasing a dual spreader/chaser bin from Coolamon.
From harvest mode to complete a spreading operation it only takes a few minutes to convert so it is adaptable to the different jobs we require it for.
“We had lime we wanted to put out onto the paddocks with the rain in the summer and with the accuracy of the machine it only took us a few minutes to have it ready to complete variable rate applications. The other day we had crop busted seed in emergence, so we spread the seed and incorporated it with a prickle chain and we’ve now got enough for a crop in places. In really wet areas it hasn’t worked as well, but it’s not a total failure and with time those crops will come through,” Trent explains.
“We feel if we concentrate on the good areas and give it every opportunity rather than the lesser areas, we will do better overall.
“In going through the historical data, the same trends are there with soil types and yield data. Each year we can keep building our knowledge based on that data.
“What we applied to each paddock in the inputs, and then looking at the header results, it correlates itself, we can already see the trends emerging and we have only been using the precision agriculture for 12 months. Next year we will do every paddock. All of our machinery is compatible with the precision ag technology and it is simple with John Deere equipment.”
As Zak, who has been practically involved in the farming operations since he was 12 years of age, walks into one of the wheat paddocks at “Yirdeen”, he explains how he has a particular passion for precision agriculture too, especially since enrolling in his agriculture studies. This winter he has also planned to further experience farming practices in other parts of the world and has plans to also work on other properties in Australia.
“I plan to go to Canada for three months to experience their harvest season during our upcoming winter period, then return for our harvest in summer. I would also like to work up north on a cattle or sheep station.
“I do find using technology such as what is used in precision agriculture is beneficial, it really ensures you can utilise all the inputs properly. We are also hoping to evolve more into precision livestock as well. We’ve got the auto drafter and we want to go into using more EID tags,” Zak says.
Trent and Regina are proud of all of their children’s involvement in the farm and say Zak’s passion has meant he has started to take over the header operations during harvest seasons.
“Farming has changed a lot in the last decade, it’s really becoming a big business and there are a lot of elements from the practical farm work to also keeping on top of finances. With Zak, we have chosen to invest in our own because we have found it challenging to find good agricultural labour. For those who do actually have a passion for it you will see benefits in progressing the operations for future gains,” Trent says.
Regina manages the financial side of the business and is also heavily involved in the paddock, while Anikah and Macey are also involved in all farm operations, especially during sowing and harvest and particularly busy times with the livestock.
As the Goodens have invested in machinery upgrades and constructing infrastructure on their properties, Trent also explains that John Deere is their machinery brand of choice, as his grandfather George Hutcheon actually founded local farm machinery retailer Hutcheon and Pearce, covering most of NSW.
“Because we have now invested in more valuable machinery we have built two large machinery sheds on “Yirdeen” and a shearing shed have been constructed on one of the properties too. There are 20 silos on the properties and for barley and other surplus grain, silo bags are used for on-farm storage.
Trent expects that with the rain already experienced and on inspecting the crops, it will be a productive year for their operations.
“We’ve got a spring already, I think it will be a good year for cropping in this area.” he says.