Farmer in Focus – Billy Sexton

Can you give us a bit of background on your farm?

It’s just me and my Dad, Peter, and Mum. We’ve got about 3,200 acres that we own and then 800 acres that we share farm, so all up that we run about 4,000 acres.

We try and do a little bit of everything. We have a few sheep on all year, and we do a fair bit of hay for the export market as well as a bit of vetch hay for the domestic market, and grain for harvest. We do a bit of everything so that if one thing isn’t doing too well, the other things might be doing better to balance it out.

We’re just starting to get ready for our fourth season of having this farm. So far we’ve had pretty successful cropping seasons each year, no real bumper crops, but we’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve got.

I hear you had a bit of an interesting journey to mixed cropping and livestock, can you tell us a bit about that?

We’ve always been involved in agriculture, but Dad had been a dairy farmer for 27 years before we made the switch. There were a few key reasons why we decided to make the switch.

The first was that I wasn’t that interested in taking the dairy on, but I was interested in farming.

The second was that the dairy industry was deteriorating, and it was very hard to be excited about being a dairy farmer, which hopefully turns around in the future because we need them to make the country run.

That was basically the reasons we made the switch, and then this farm came up. Mum grew up in Charlton and it’s not that far from where we were at Dingee. It was a big risk to make the transition, but I think we’ve been pretty successful in making it work and we’re pretty comfortable with how things are running.

What was 2019 like on the farm?

Considering the dry finish, it was surprisingly good. Our hay was probably our breadwinner. The crops were really good, up around that 9 tonne to the hectare and they all went super premium, which is the top grade for export hay with the oats, or the second top grade after we had a bit of rain on the windrow, so we were really happy with how that turned out.

The grain, although they weren’t massive crops, were reasonably good quality. They were good average crops that we think very much benefited from the summer rainfall we had in December 2018. If we didn’t get that rainfall, we might not have had half the crop that we had. We did some soil probes as the grain was about to start filling and we were quite surprised by the amount of moisture down deep that the roots had made their way down to. Because the price was high compared to normal, we were probably getting more than we might get in a bumper year when the price isn’t as good. If you look at it that way, we had a pretty good year.

What has been happening on the farm recently?

I took a bit of a break after harvest, so since I’ve been back, we’ve been spraying. We’ve been chipping away at it and we’ve still got some sheep on that we’ve been rotating through the paddocks.

We’re slowly starting to outload the grain we stored on-farm. We stored almost everything on farm, we have a couple of 600 tonne bunkers up the back that we filled up, so from now until basically next cropping we’ll keep sending a bit of grain out, as well as hay.

We’ve got a fair bit of hay around that, in the last two weeks, we’ve just started to take a bit down to Bridgewater, which is where we take all of our export hay. And with the vetch hay, we’ve been taking loads here and there with one or two loads a week to a couple of dairy farms that we’ve been supplying vetch hay to for the past couple of years.

What are your plans for the farm in 2020 and going forward?

Probably just hope that it rains again. We’ve just ordered another big hay shed. The one we’ve got holds 2,800 bales so we’ve ordered another one exactly the same. The hay did so well that we didn’t have enough room in the shed for it, and it’s one investment that you can make money back on pretty quickly. We’ve also just ordered a brand-new high density square baler to help optimise our efficiency with tonnes of hay per truckloads and how many tonnes you can fit in a shed.

So, with upgrades like those, we’re working towards being able to take on more land in the future. At this stage, we’re comfortable with the amount of land we’ve got, but we thought we’d just start chipping away at a few storage facilities and things like that, upgrading them so that we can take on more land when it becomes available in the future.

What is the best advice you’ve been given as a farmer or in life?

Focus on things you do well and don’t be afraid of seeking assistance for the things that you don’t know quite as well. You don’t want to go out and pretend you know it all, because no one knows it all. There’s always going to be something that someone knows more about than you do, so don’t be afraid to seek advice. Never hesitate to ask someone for another perspective or a bit of advice.

Focus on the things you can control. With things like weather, that’s obviously out of your control, so there’s no point letting it control your decision making. Go with what you plan to do and whatever happens at the end, happens. Don’t dwell on the bad times, because we certainly do have good times.

Where do you go for advice?

There’s advice everywhere, BCG field days for example. I love going along to them, those types of days are a great chance to do some networking, not only do you get to hear some professionals talk about their sector, you also get to sit down and have lunch with a few farmers that you don’t normally get to catch up with and you have the chance to pick their brains as well. You’ve always got to be willing to listen to other people’s thoughts, whether you think they’re right or wrong.

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