Powells opt to sell farm after tragedy

Powell farm sale as family moves on after tragedy


Dairy
TEAMWORK: James Maxwell, Kerryn Powell and Amber Griffiths in their 50-stand rotary, one of two dairies on the farm they managed with the help of friends and staff members following the tragedy. PHOTO: Coralee Askew

TEAMWORK: James Maxwell, Kerryn Powell and Amber Griffiths in their 50-stand rotary, one of two dairies on the farm they managed with the help of friends and staff members following the tragedy. PHOTO: Coralee Askew

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Kerryn Powell talks about the challenges of running the family dairy farm and the decision to sell in the wake of the lifesaving tragedy that claimed the lives of his brother and father.

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With the family farm now on the market, Kerryn Powell has talked about the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed the lives of his brother and father on Easter Sunday this year.

When Andrew and Ross Powell drowned while trying to save the life of a tourist at Port Campbell, they left behind both a devastated family and community.

Ross' wife, Val, was preparing a housewarming party that day as the older generation moved off-farm for their retirement.

Andrew's partner, Amber Griffiths, was pregnant with their first child.

Andrew himself was planning 30 years ahead for when that child, born just this week, might want to take on the farm.

The pair also left behind a meticulously-run 400-hectare, 485-cow dairy farm at Cooriemungle in south-west Victoria.

Into this void stepped Kerryn Powell, a mechanical fitter working in Queensland's coal mines.

Mr Powell had made a new life for himself and his wife in Mackay since leaving the farm eight years ago but did not hesitate to return.

"I approached Amber on Easter Sunday after the accident just to tell her that my wife and I were going to come back to the farm the next day to start working and try to keep things on track," Mr Powell said.

"Amber had already organised a staff meeting for the next morning.

"After that a handful of the neighbours generously gave up their time to come over to help us with things like assembling all the calf pens, grading the tracks and a whole bunch of other things that Ross and Andy hadn't quite got around to doing.

"The accident happened only three weeks before calving started, the busiest time of year you can get.

"One of Andy's best friends took a whole week off work and just turned up every day to work around the clock, others came each day after they had finished on their own farms, working until 11 o'clock at night, doing their best to get things done."

While admitting to being "pretty lost for the first couple of days", Mr Powell said he and Amber had agreed to take things one step at a time.

"One night, when we had a quiet moment, I had a chat to her about my short-term goals," he said.

"At that time, no one knew what was going to happen and I personally hadn't made my mind up.

"I said, you know, it doesn't matter what happens with the farm but we've got to get through calving and then we will be able to set some medium and longer-term goals."

Mr Powell said the support of volunteers and staff members was pivotal.

"James Maxwell was hired roughly six months before the accident to be Andy's farm manager and run the herd," he said.

"He's just been fantastic.

"He's stepped up to fill Andrew's shoes in so far as running the herd health and maintaining the quality that Andy had set in the dairy."

Mr Powell said Andrew's "love of spreadsheets" had provided an invaluable head start.

"Andy had already planned out all of his dry-off groups, what he was doing with the cows and all the feeding programs," he said.

"Everything was all already documented.

"We're only just now starting to have to think of stuff ourselves, that's how far ahead he thought."

Mr Powell said Mr Maxwell had worked long hours without complaint and the family appreciated the help of staffers Mel and Harry.

Amber's sister, Natalie Griffiths, left Sydney immediately after Easter to work alongside Amber and Mr Powell's own wife has been "waiting patiently" in Mackay while he works on the farm.

"Those extra set of hands gave us more time to think, 'What do we do?'," he said.

"I haven't been home for almost four months now but I'll be here until the end, I'm not going anywhere.

"I'm not going to leave Amber or Mum here by themselves."

Not that Ms Griffiths is anything other than highly capable, managing the farm finances and calf rearing with her sister.

"We've had 30 cows calving a day, it's been such a tight calving pattern," Mr Powell said.

"We got to our target number of 128 really, really quickly and only lost one heifer calf due to a birth defect."

With calving over, the Powells considered the future of the farm, which has been owned by the family since 1939.

"I've known for a long time that farming is just not for me and I was never planning on staying long-term," Mr Powell said.

"I had a conversation with my mother and, separately, another one with Amber asking, 'Is this what you see yourself doing for the rest of the rest of your life?'

"Mum and Dad were making plans to retire.

"I can only assume the reason Andrew hired James to be the herd manager was so he and Amber could take a step back and oversee the whole operation and spend time with their new family.

"Dad would have been able to travel around in his motor home and just want to settle down with Mum.

"To run a farm you need to be invested, you need to have someone here who doesn't run off a clock on an hourly rate.

"If there is something wrong, you just go and do it; nobody else will."

Ross and Andrew had always invested heavily in the farm.

Sub-surface drainage, for example, allowed the heavy clay soil to yield massive quantities of fodder.

"They cut 90 per cent of the farm and got 2200 rolls of silage and 900 rolls of hay last year," he said.

He was philosophical about losing the connection with the farm.

"You have to be realistic about this, you know eventually you have to leave the farm, whether it be handed over or you sell it," he said.

Ideally, Mr Powell said they would like the herd to be sold along with the farm but recognised it might not be possible.

"I'd like to see the herd stay on the farm given the amount of work Dad and Andy had put into the genetics," he said.

"They're lovely, docile cows.

"These are Dad's original cows, he's had this bloodline longer than I've been alive.

"We have already sold some young stock and calves to a cousin this year, so there will always be part of the herd over there with them.

"It's a good feeling."

The story Powells opt to sell farm after tragedy first appeared on Stock & Land.

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