Management

‘Hillbillies moment’ hits jackpot at Gunbower

By Sophie Baldwin

Uncertainty surrounding the future of irrigation was the catalyst for Gunbower dairy farmers Harry and Jodie Rowlands to look outside the square and do something no-one in the area had done before — install a bore.

It was October 2018 when Harry had his lightning moment — staring out across the paddock he thought what if next year is worse than this year?

“That was my Beverly Hillbillies Jed Clampett moment when I thought ‘Let’s have a look underground and see what is there’, ” Harry said.

After receiving the paperwork Harry sat on it for a while before he decided to go ahead.

The paperwork took four months to organise and the test bore was dug in September.

The couple decided the initial $10 000 to $15 000 cost to drill a test site was worth the risk.

“There is no real way of knowing what is underground unless you drill,” Harry said.

“It is a whole new world under there and our area hasn’t been mapped before so we had no idea whether this was a good idea; we certainly didn’t get our hopes up.”

The Rowlands family has farmed on Gunbower Island for generations and Harry’s grandfather always thought there was groundwater in the area, it turns out he was right, although not for the reason he thought.

“The drillers laughed when I told them my grandfather’s reasons why there would be bore water here, apparently old wives’ tales don’t work underground!” he said.

The second-hand generator will be on-sold when the transformer is upgraded.

At 90 m they hit a small water pocket, but it wasn’t until 130 m they hit the jackpot.

“The drillers weren’t really expecting to find water here. The general rule of thumb is the closer you get toward Pyramid Hill the saltier the water is but once water testing looked positive, we decided to go ahead,” Harry said.

It took around three weeks to build and line the bore.

A 14-inch pump sits in the bore. It has a 110 kW electric motor sitting underneath which pushes water 55 m up eight inch, lay flat tubing, to the surface. The bore line then connects into the black brute pipe-and-riser system and can be sent anywhere around the farm.

Before the bore water hits the farm line, it passes through a Delta water conditioner which in layman’s terms changes the way the minerals react in the water once they hit the soil so there is no build-up of salt or nasty elements.

“The conditioner was optional, but I thought it was worth spending the money on to be safe and improve our water quality,” Harry said.

A second-hand diesel generator powers the bore site.

“We have to wait for a transformer upgrade by Powercor, so we decided to install the generator with plans to sell it down the track when our power is upgraded.”

The decision to build the bore was not taken lightly − the significant financial cost was a worry.

“It was a gamble and I am still nervous because we are in a bit of a grey area,” Harry said.

“They tell me the pump has a 30-year life span and Dave Watson, the bloke who dug the bore, said we have got quality sand underground which could mean a good, long-term supply of water,” he said.

Harry said running a grass-based system with very little grain consumption made the risk of constructing a bore worthwhile.

“Continuing to grow green grass from bore water is very appealing. In 2007–08 I spent the whole year sitting in a tractor feeding out hay and I never want to do that again, I would much rather grow grass than drive machinery.”

Harry said the bore offers security for the 380 spring calving herd, along with the possibility of expansion down the track.

“I have been concerned about the future of our existing irrigation scheme for a while now,” he said.

“I am not sure if politicians have an agenda to finish irrigation − the National Party’s silence on the water issue has been deafening.

“They are steering the ship as we sink and I am just glad now come election time, we have other options out there to vote for,” Harry said.

Harry said once upon a time, a full irrigation dam ensured an allocation.

“That’s not the case anymore — water policy is buggered, and it is like irrigation is now a filthy world. My farm is not far from the national park, but I can guarantee irrigation brings more biodiversity to my farm than I have ever seen in the bush,” he said.