Tassie farmer exploring benefits of seaweed
skip to content1
We are experiencing some issues with the Rabobank Online Savings mobile app which means it is unavailable for some Apple users.

Tassie farmer exploring benefits of seaweed

Category Client Stories

Richard Gardner

Consistently poised on the leading edge of innovation, Richard Gardner of “Annandale” near Tunbridge has long been a progressive force within Tasmania’s agricultural industry – even introducing dairy to the midlands – but it’s the next chapter that has him truly excited.

Together with wife Emily, Richard is currently trialling an asparagopsis seaweed-based feed additive across his Tunbridge dairy as part of an industry trial between Sea Forest and Fonterra.

Developed to significantly reduce methane emissions, and improve feed efficiency, it’s the exact innovation Richard believes may address his greatest business concern – climate change.

A 2003 Nuffield Scholar, Richard was introduced to the science behind climate change during his scholarship, which he admits challenged his views notably, “I knew then that climate change was real, and coming.”

Having since instigated a number of greenhouse gas audits on his property over the past 20 years, the environmental footprint of the operation remains an on-going concern.

“I’ve had long-held reservations about the emissions from our industry, and have been mindful to reduce emissions where we can through measures such as improving irrigation efficiency, reducing the number of our dry cows and managing effluent – but without a technical solution for methane emissions we were really unsure of how to significantly address the problem,” he said.

Until now.

“It’s an exciting time, and I don’t think anything matches the potential to reduce emissions of asparagopsis.”

Richard had been following the progress of seaweed-based feed additives since he first became aware of it in a 2016 MLA paper - but one key point he didn’t realise was just how close to home the development was.

Developed by the CSIRO’s “Future Feed”, Fonterra was approached to lead a trial with Tasmania’s dairy farmers, with the asparagopsis seaweed grown off the island’s east coast by the company Sea Forest.

“I had no idea the technology was being developed down here in Tasmania, or the fact that the seaweed only grows in Tasmania and New Zealand – it's amazing to have this really exciting development on our door step, and as soon as I heard of the trial in a Fonterra newsletter, I contacted them immediately to offer our dairy for trials.”

With the trial still in its early stages, Richard has been working closely with Fonterra and Sea Forest, conducting food safety testing before rolling the additive into the dairy’s feed schedule.

Such is the potential of the innovation, it’s predicted that 80 per cent of the 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent produced annually as methane by Richard’s 1,250 herd will be reduced.

Along with the reduction in methane emitted there should be a nine to 10 per cent feed efficiency gain from his pasture based system.

With his focus firmly toward the future, striving for more efficient and effective ways to progress agriculture, Richard’s history in the region is equally fascinating.

A successful career growing poppies was jeopardised throughout the 2006/07 drought, forcing this dynamic primary producer to reassess and look for viable agricultural alternatives.

“Climate change was just beginning to pique people’s conscience, dry times were becoming more frequent and severe, and there was a growing need for water security. I knew that to continue we had to diversify out of poppies.”

Identifying the potential of accessing more secure irrigation water from Tasmanias highland lakes, Richard was instrumental in lobbying for a district wide irrigation scheme, with the myriad agricultural opportunities of front-of-mind.

From 2006 Richard began lobbying government, community and industry, and challenging perceptions that dairy or horticulture could be an option within the region.

A commitment to funding at the 2007 federal election, backed up by the state government for the Midland Water Scheme – along with 12 other Tasmanian schemes – meant that by 2014 Richard was milking cows in his newly built dairy.

“I spent so long arguing that we could be dairy farming here in the midlands, I had to put my money where my mouth was,” he laughed.

The shift from a dryland sheep grazing and cash cropping operation to dairy – in a non-traditional dairy area – required significant investment, and some would say, bravado.

But Richard, who grew up on a dairy farm, had researched thoroughly – with data out of New Zealand particularly useful – and was confident he knew the industry, knew the region and knew the numbers stacked up.

The dairy conversion alone was a major and costly development, with the investment in irrigation infrastructure also significant.

However he said Rabobank manager, Gareth Horne didn’t baulk once, and was extremely encouraging of his vision from the onset.

“Gareth took us for a drive to visit some of the best dairy businesses within the bank, which not only facilitated knowledge sharing and helped build relationships – it gave us enormous confidence in what we were doing,” Richard said.

Milk prices were low, naysayers scoffed at the idea of running a dairy in a 460mm rainfall zone and while it may have seemed like the odds were against him, Richard had full faith in his vision.

“On our travels with Gareth we focussed on businesses which operated with a low cost of production – they weren’t so worried about the price of milk as commodity prices are constantly shifting – they just got on with business regardless,” he said.

“The top 25 per cent of commodity producers weather price shifts because of their low cost of production, it’s about building an efficient, and sustainable business – which we knew we could do.”

The dairy is now in its seventh season, and has well and truly put paid to any sceptics.

In year one, the farm milked 750 cows, it now milks 1,250.

“Growth was always our plan, and we chose to expand the herd to capacity slowly over five years, allowing us the time to learn and get our people and systems in place before going full scale.”

He admits however that it hasn’t been without its challenges.

“Developing a whole new business and the processes required to run it proved a steep learning curve, however sometimes you need to make mistakes to ensure a more robust and resilient business.”

He also describes himself as somewhat ‘naïve’ when it came to the Australian dairy industry.

“I thought the production systems in which we should be operating in would be more clearly outlined, however there are a lot of different people doing different things and perhaps our industry is not always focused on pure profitability.”

“It has taken a number of years to really focus on our production system, and this has included looking beyond Australia to pasture based systems in New Zealand and South Africa,” Richard said. “Our key metric is tonnes of pasture dry matter grown per hectare per year, with an aim for over 15 to 16 tonne.”

With reliable labour also a challenge, this season Richard’s dairy has made the shift from twice a day conventional milking to once a day.

“Expectations across the workforce have changed, fewer people want to be up at 4am milking, seven days a week,” he said. “Once a day will ease the staff workload and decrease burnout, increase the sustainability and retention of the workforce whilst also taking the pressure off the cows.”

Milking once a day supports all the metrics for cow health, including keeping weight on and supporting fertility – but this new routine comes at the expense of production, particularly in the four to five year transition period.

However, Richard has been pleasantly surprised by his results so far and is confident the short-term pain will be far outweighed by the long-term gain.

“We budgeted for a significant initial drop in production and associated challenge for cash flow, however while we planned for four to five years reach our target of 90 per cent of our previous per cow production , the way we are going this season we should hopefully reach that figure in two years.”

With memories of his early days in agriculture still fresh in his mind – dominated by wool price slumps and an industry largely void of environmental outcomes  - Richard strives for efficient, effective and sustainable agriculture. He laughs that if he could survive through the 1990’s, he could survive anything in agriculture.

And thanks to his progressive, highly-considered operation, Richard Gardner has not just survived, he has thrived, emerging as an inspiration across the industry, with the best potentially yet to come. 

↩ Back to our clients

Show me articles from