Bridgewater contractor enjoys growing his own

Shane Bowen from Bridgewater in Central Victoria believes that you need to grab every opportunity that comes along, “If you sit and think about it too much, it’s gone,” he says.

From a boyhood at Maldon with no links to farming, Shane now runs an extensive contracting and transport business, as well as an impressive cropping enterprise.

Having moved from Maldon, Shane spent two years with his family managing the Serpentine roadhouse, about 50km north of Bendigo. He then worked at the former Coles-Myer irrigation farm there for six or seven years, where his farm duties included fodder production and handling, cereal cropping and contracting. And that sparked his interest in hay making.

When Coles-Myer sold the irrigation farm, he bought the Case 4 x 4 baler from the farm and went contracting. He married Kathryn in 1993, and as the business snowballed and grew, so did their family. They now have four children; Sixteen year-old Kyra, Corey, 14, Jay is 10 and Ashlee is 8.

They moved from their house in the town of Bridgewater to their present small acreage property on the outskirts about three years ago.

At the moment the contracting business has about 24 customers, although Shane points out that some of these are just for windrowing canola.

He runs a Massey Ferguson 2170 large square baler, a self-propelled Massey Ferguson 5140 windrower which can be set up with either a New Holland 18 foot mower/conditioner front or a 25 foot AGCO draper front. The draper front is mainly for canola and straw windrowing.

A Tonutti V rake, Kuhn rotary rake, Croplands sprayer and Flexi-Coil seeder round out the contracting equipment.

Shane has owned six large square balers, either 4 x 4 or 4 x 3, all of them have been Hesston-made balers, but badged under a number of different brands.

It’s demanding work – this baling

Bowen Contracting has two people full-time on farming, two on transport, plus two casuals when things get busy. Shane does 90% of the baling – because of the demanding nature of the work - and all of the planning. The others employees help with raking, mowing, stacking and cartage.

Shane’s favourite tractor is a 200hp Fendt 920 that operates the baler and the windrower. He says that the constantly variable transmission technology gives him “remarkable productivity and economy”.

A John Deere 8100 pulls the sprayer, a JD4050 is used for the raking and a JD4240 for bale stacking, as well as a Telehandler.

His brother, Craig, came on board ten years ago looking after the transport side of the business. They now have a B-double outfit for hay, a Tautliner for pelletised compost and a walking floor bulk trailer “for things like manure”.

In the dry years the contracting has taken Shane from Quambatook to Mt Elephant, near Derrinallum in the Western District. He’s proud of the good relationships he’s established with western district farmers that are still continuing to this day, particularly for the transport side of the business.

Taking full responsibility

“A lot of people entrust us to the whole job; from the standing crop right through ‘til it’s in the shed. I like to have full control to take out the variables.”

Last year was the best year locally for quite a few years. They baled in excess of 9000 tonnes, mainly catering for the domestic market. “We sell some customers hay that we bale. I’ll never recommend hay we don’t work with – that’ll bite you.”

He enjoys a strong relationship with Murray Goulburn Trading on the hay sales and transport, and sells direct to some dairyfarmers.

ScatoPlus, just down the road at Newbridge, supplies mushroom growing substrate and systems to growers all over Australia. They claim that over 70 tonnes of mushrooms are grown every week around Australia on ScatoPlus substrate. Bowen Contracting has an arrangement to supply them with around 4000 tonnes of straw each year, just about all of it sourced locally, but in a tough year Shane has needed to get some from the Western District. Kathryn works in administration for Scato Plus.

For the last ten years Shane has been dealing with Tapex for the all-important twine supplies. “I like the consistency of the product – and the service. We don’t end up with any downtime due to the twine. If we did I’d change!”

He sources his haymaking supplies through Bridgewater Farmware and Murray-Goulburn Trading.

Getting a kick out of cropping

On the cropping side, Shane share farms or leases 1200 hectares in the immediate district and up at Boort. As he says, “we don’t own much, but we crop a lot of ground in our own right.

“For the last six years I’ve enjoyed growing our own fodder and grain.”

This year they will harvest 600 hectares for hay, and 600 hectares for grain. They have taken advantage of the great conditions and sowed wheat, barley, oats and vetch.

At our visit to the Bridgewater property, about two weeks before the Elmore Field Days, Shane proudly showed off a very healthy paddock of vetch and wheat that he has put in on a leased property a couple of kilometres away.

The wheat and vetch were sowed together in early May and the vetch was just topping the wheat when we inspected it. “It’s a combination that is good feed value.” The crop was due to be cut for hay in the following couple of weeks when he was confident that the wheat would have pushed up past the vetch.

Busy season coming up

He’s expecting to be pretty busy this season and says that there will be less acreage put to hay, but the yields should be greater.

“Our season starts straight after Elmore Field Days and goes through until the canola finishes in the second or third week of November. Then we’re baling straw until the end of February.

“When we start baling, a lot of it is in daylight. Later in the season it’s mostly during the night, so we roll the swag out on the bale.

“In winter we do around 1700ha of spraying and sowing for our contracting customers, and on our own land.”

It’s obvious that Shane Bowen is proud of every aspect of his contracting business and gets a huge kick out of growing his own crops, but it hasn’t all come easily.  “I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got,” he reminds us, “Nothing was handed to me on a plate.”

He says that you can’t get too attached to your machinery. “You need to swap it over for the gear that’s going to give you best productivity. Although I do love the AGCO line of products.”

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