The South Eastern (Millicent) Experimental Farm

For a short period of time the Government managed a small area of land around Millicent as an Experimental Farm.  While the Department of Agriculture was not officially established until 1904, there were Annual Reports prepared.  The first Annual Progress Report of the Department of Agriculture was produced in 1882.

The following is an entry in the 1882 Annual Progress Report regarding the Millicent Experimental Farm:

An experimental station, consisting of fifty acres of land belonging to the Govern­ment, has been commenced. The land is being ploughed and prepared for work; four small paddocks of five acres each have been fenced, so as to enable the grasses, clovers, &c., to be fed down by sheep when required. A rotation of crops suitable for the district will also receive a fair trial. When these experimental stations have been properly organised, and are in full working order, I trust the results obtained will be of practical value to farmers, and also give correct information as to the capabilities of the soil and district.

A more detailed account is available from a series of articles written by the Special Reported for The South Australian Register.  It was published in 1880, and an extract of the article follows:

The South Eastern Experimental Farm is about two and a half miles from Millicent, and in the centre of the drainage district. It has been established three years, and is under the management of a thoroughly practical man, who has been in the locality over thirteen years, and to whose skill and sound judgement testimony was recently borne by Mr McIvor, the well known agricultural chemist.  But Mr R A Perkins with all his energy and care has not been able to make the Government Farm a conspicuous success. It is not, however, a failure the same as the one in the North East.  It is 1000 acres in extent, and the soil is of fair average quality; but right in the middle of the farm is a hundred acre belt of teatree, where the wallabies are so numerous that they threaten to destroy the usefulness of the farm, and especially of the nursery where Mr Perkins tries his experiments in planting and sowing.  They came in to the farm last year in whole battalions, and when they had done fifty acres of wheat were also missing.  But the clearing of their teatree thicket would be very expensive.  Mr Perkins says it would cost £6 per acre to clear, and £4 more to drain it properly.  I am afraid, therefore, that the wallabies will have a long tenure of their present holding if Ministerial retrenchment is to be carried out according to the wishes of Parliament.

There have been three crops of wheat taken off the Experimental Farm, the average yield being 11 bushels per acre for the last two years.  This is not much for land that is worth £3 per acre, and that is the average which has been paid throughout the District.  Mr Perkins has 300 acres of wheat in last year, and he has now about 250 acres, with 50 more of barley and oats.  He has 30 acres under grass, and 30 acres under water or at least he had when I was there early in August.  There was wheat there before the floods came, but it has rotted since, and the land will have to be sown a second time, as a good deal of other land in the district has already had to be.  Many of the citizens of Adelaide have, I fancy, quite a hazy idea of the climate in the South East.  They know it is moist, but many of them hardly realise the great difference there is between the rainfall, say, at Millicent and in Adelaide.  The general average during the past forty years has been little more than 20 inches in Adelaide, while down at Millicent up to the beginning of August this year the rainfall has reached nearly 23 inches. In June nearly 5½ inches fell, and for two months there were not three fine days consecutively.  At the time of my visit some of the farmers were engaged sowing portions of their land for the third time this season; and the probable result will be a light harvest for the whole of the drainage area.  After my return I noticed that the average rainfall has been well sustained, the downpour during the month of August having been 5.150 inches.

The soil on and around the Experimental Farm is a good black loam but said to be deficient in lime.  It is wet, cold, and sour and requires more drainage.  The subsoil is of a limestone gravel, and the crabholes occurring every few years in some places and acting as a series of funnels. The water is soon drained off, considering the very slight fall there is in any direction.  The fall between the Narrow Neck and Millicent is, I believe, only six inches in seven miles  These little crabs thus act as drainers, but the holes they make sure a constant source of annoyance to horses and horsemen.  At the present time Mr Perkins has twenty-seven different sorts of wheat in, and of these Tuscan, Purple Straw, and Nonpareil are growing best. Besides these he has five kinds of oats, seven of barley, and quite a large variety of grasses.  Potatoes do not grow well off the new land, but turn out pretty fair crops when the land has been worked two of three years. Barley has always done well, but has not been cultivated on a large scale.  The average yield during the first year was twenty-six bushels, and last year thirty-three bushels.  Oats do not prosper on the new land, and if they should perchance do well the caterpillars generally come up and prevent a decent crop being reaped.  Mr Perkins has thirty acres down in grasses, which are growing up amazingly, especially white and red clover and trefoil.  Lucerne is doing well on the ridges, but not on the flats.  The drained lands generally are too wet and cold for Lucerne. Kentucky blue grass and cocksfoot are promising good feed and plenty of it.  Mr McIvor, I believe, does not recommend fog, but his theory is contrary to the experience of some of the farmers whom I spoke to, as they assured me Yorkshire fog had done splendidly with them.  From what I could see during my visit to the Experimental Farm everything seems to be well managed and to reflect credit on the Overseer, Mr Perkins. The only employees on the farm are three men and a boy, except in busy times.  There are some good cattle and useful agricultural machinery and implements, but there is nothing about the place to indicate that the public money is being squandered, or that the Overseer feels the funds of a paternal Government are at his back."

It is not know when the Experimental Farm closed.

Prepared by Don Plowman
January 2020

Page Last Reviewed: 02 Mar 2020
Top of page