Drought runs milk farm dry

Tough times im­pact dairy

Gatton Star - - LIFE INTO RURAL -

STEVE Blanch has sent his three sons away from the fam­ily’s dairy farm – they won’t work it as he did with his fa­ther as a young bloke.

Low dairy prices cou­pled with a crip­pling drought has put the Blanch’s own­er­ship of the Lower Mount Walker dairy farm at a big­ger threat than any other time in their 64-year his­tory.

Mr Blanch se­nior bought the 230ha prop­erty in 1954 be­fore Steve and his brother took over in 1990.

While much has changed in the world since 1990 – the price of milk hasn’t.

“Milk was a dol­lar a litre in 1993 and it’s still a dol­lar per litre,” Steve said.

“Try and find any other in­dus­try sell­ing a com­mod­ity at 1993 prices – you won’t.”

There is an ex­pec­ta­tion Aussie farm­ers will push on, con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide food for mil­lions.

But Steve’s de­fi­ance and drive dur­ing tough times is stripped raw when he talks about the wretched deal for dairy farm­ers.

“All of our ex­penses con­tinue to go through the roof, ev­ery­thing from wages to drought-driven things like feed,” he said.

“The trou­ble is when you’re con­tin­u­ally mak­ing noth­ing out of it and go­ing fur­ther and fur­ther into debt there is a con­sid­er­a­tion that I don’t know how much longer we can con­tinue what we’re do­ing.

“It’s a shame to think we’ll lose the fam­ily farm through no fault of our own.”

Steve’s fa­ther died five years ago and his three sons have se­cured trade jobs – re­al­is­ing the fu­ture was bleak on the farm.

It was a heart­break­ing de­ci­sion for Steve, who hoped he would one day hand the prop­erty over.

“The idea to keep the fam­ily farm was the whole idea of it,” he said.

“We do con­sider throw­ing it in but we love where we live and we’re on a good farm.

“If we would have known five to six years ago milk was go­ing to stay at $1 we prob­a­bly all would have jumped.”

Steve hopes about 1.5 mil­lion litres of milk will be pro­duced by the farm’s 350 milk­ing cows.

The fam­ily is paid about 55 cents for each litre.

He says a 10c in­crease will make farm­ing vi­able again.

“If we can do that we don’t need a mas­sive shift in the milk price, as much as we’d like it,” he said. “Every 10c is $150,000.

“It would be the dif­fer­ence be­tween liv­ing and dy­ing.”

When Steve left school in 1988 his fa­ther was get­ting about 58c per litre of milk.

“To­day we strug­gle to get 56c,” Steve said.

Drought has added to the fam­ily’s heartache, spend­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to keep cat­tle alive.

“There’s a lot of mouths to feed when it doesn’t rain,” he said.

The dwin­dling num­ber of dairy farms in Queens­land also con­cerns Steve.

In 2001 there were 1550 dairy farms and to­day there is less than 370.

The state can­not af­ford to lose farms.

Queens­land’s pop­u­la­tion con­sumes about 600 mil­lion litres of milk each year.

Only 400 mil­lion is sup­plied by Queens­land farms, with the 200 mil­lion-litre short­fall filled mostly by Vic­to­ria.

Steve is beg­ging peo­ple to buy branded milk rather than Coles and Wool­worths’ $1 bot­tles.

He sup­plies Norco; Aus­tralia’s largest farm­ing co-op.

“Every cent of every litre of Norco milk goes back to the farmer in one way or the other,” he said.

CON­CERNED: Lower Mount Walker dairy farmer Steve Blanch.

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