Green dream for CBH director

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Prominent CBH director John Hassell says a sustainable farming operation is the key to agricultural viability in the future, and that is why he is gearing his farm towards self-sufficiency.

Mr Hassell, who was first elected to the CBH Group board of directors in April 2009 and is the CBH- appointed representative on the Co-operatives WA Council, runs about 1400 sheep alongside his diverse cropping operation at Pingelly, consisting of canola, barley, oat, lupins and hay.

He said if everything went to plan in the next few seasons he would be self-sufficient for diesel and feed requirements for his property

The Hassell family owns a 1200ha mixed farming operation, running about 1400 sheep and growing wheat, oats, barley, canola and lupins.

"We wanted to get into an alternative industry after attending a study tour in the US in 1997 about small town redevelopment," Mr Hassell said.

"That gave me the idea to do something a bit different.

"Later, while at the airport, I happened to pick up a book on peat oil, and renewable energy seemed to me to be a very smart idea.

"We did some more research and then decided to invest in a bio-diesel plant in town."

Mr Hassell said bio-products were high in energy glycerol and high in protein canola meal, and those two were a perfect fit with farming.

He said his family previously succeeded in producing about 80,000 litres of bio-diesel which fuelled all farm machinery for a year and this year they aimed to do that again, as well be self-sufficient for bio-produced sheep rations.

"The bio-diesel is made out of canola oil, used cooking oil and animal fat," he said.

"Despite the relatively low price of canola, the economics of making fuel out of it is very challenging.

"Also with animal fat it requires a collection process on-farm that we've yet to establish. We are cropping our head of windrows and then dropping the seed on top of the windrows and then bailing it up.

"So we're collecting our seeds and the bi-products out of the biodiesel plant and we make a complete feed-ration out of that for the feedlot."

Mr Hassell said from a shaky start using a bio-mix for the feedlot, recent promising and consistent results had given the family more confidence in the bio-feed principles.

"We had to purchase a Keenan feed mixer to mix it up before we feedlot it," he said.

"At the moment we're using lupins, barley and hay to make the feed mix and we're establishing the feedlot, but still have some improvements to make to that.

"It's all a slow process but we're working towards it.

"But I'm happy to say that we've done fairly well out of the lambs we've run this year, averaging about 48 kilograms, at about $38 a head."

Mr Hassell said it was the first year the feedlot had completely relied on bio-mix for feed requirements.

"At the start the lamb growth rate was zero because we didn't have the mix right," he said.

"It turned out what was missing some stabilisers, so we've just gone with a company called Bio-John which provided the essential nutrient additives to the mix. We haven't analysed the growth rate for that amount of time but it's a massive increase from zero.

"Now, our growth rate target using the bio-mix is 100 grams a day at least."

Mr Hassell said it was a matter of perfecting bio-processes and infrastructure on the farm before the next lot of lambs.

"If we can bring all the factors of fattening lambs using bio-mix together we will consider buying more lambs in," he said.

"But even before we do that we need make everything work better, which I am sure we will, so it's easy to run sheep from the feedlot down to the shed. And so it's all a one-man operation."

Mr Hassell also said he was considering changing breeds with the next purchase of lambs.

"Currently we run Dorperlee prime lambs bred by Steve Kolb in Pingelly," he said. "We liked this breed because they had excellent lambing qualities, but they're very difficult to keep behind fences."

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