End of era as last truck leaves 100-year-old dairy

Poor milk prices and drought take their toll

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - PORK - CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER Cas­san­dra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

IT WAS the end of a long era as Rowan Men­gel sent off the last truck­load of milk from his 100-year-old dairy in Fel­ton, Queens­land.

Low milk prices and three years of drought led Rowan to make the heart­break­ing de­ci­sion to sell off his herd to save his farm.

“Rowan is ba­si­cally a bro­ken man,” said his wife, Is­abel.

“It was sell the herd and pay bills, or lose the farm. And we can’t lose the farm.

“We were los­ing $2000 a day. In feed we were los­ing $1500 a day plus elec­tric­ity costs and pay­ing six em­ploy­ees.”

Men­gel Dairy has been in the fam­ily since Rowan’s grand­fa­ther came to the prop­erty in 1922.

The last milk truck left Men­gel Dairy on Oc­to­ber 22, 2018.

“It’s some­thing that was forced upon us,” Rowan said.

“A lot of good milk­ing cows went to the meat­works – that wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion at all.

“They were all born and bred here. I’ve been a closed dairy for about 12 years now. I haven’t bought any heifers in since then.”

The Men­gels sold 500 cows in the past six months.

“What de­stroyed Rowan be­fore was send­ing them all to the meat­works,” Is­abel said.

“About six months ago we started sell­ing them to pay bills.

“We started sell­ing the older cows first and then ba­si­cally ev­ery cow in the herd.

“It hasn’t been a good time here.”

There are still about 300 head at the dairy in­clud­ing cows, heifers and calves.

“We milk about 13 at the mo­ment for our per­sonal use and for the ba­bies,” Is­abel said.

“And hope­fully we can sell them to a dairy farmer.

“We hope we can save these girls un­til the drought is over and some­body wants to buy them.”

Rowan said the Gov­ern­ment needed to put an end to $1/L milk. Men­gel Dairy sup­plied milk to Par­malat.

“When the $1/L started seven or eight years ago we took a hit of $75,000– $80,000 a year,” Rowan said.

“Par­malat bot­tle the milk for Wool­worths. And of course to get the con­tract they’re un­der-cut­ting each other, which is driv­ing the price down.

“To cover costs they should be pay­ing farmers at least 80c a litre.

“Farmers are get­ting paid around 55–60c.

“In 1992 they were sell­ing milk for a $1/L, and it’s the same 26 years later.

“I would like to see all these politi­cians and Woolies and Coles and Aldi get paid the wages of 1992 and see how they han­dle it.

“It hurts and they just won’t do any­thing about it. We just can’t sur­vive.

“And then the drought on top of it was just killing me.”

Is­abel said the cost of feed­ing dairy cat­tle was higher than beef cat­tle.

“Three years of buy­ing feed, you just can’t do it,” she said.

“We can’t just put our cat­tle on sur­vival ra­tions when

❝the It was sell herd and pay bills, or lose the farm. And we can’t lose the farm.

— Is­abel Men­gel

they’re milk­ing.

“Be­cause they put it all into mak­ing milk, so we have to look af­ter them too.”

Rowan said if things didn’t change, there would soon be no dairies left in Aus­tralia.

“It’s head­ing in that di­rec­tion. There is go­ing to have to be a ma­jor shake-up in the dairy in­dus­try be­cause it’s not work­ing the way it is,” he said.

“There is noth­ing wrong with this coun­try, it’s just the way we’re get­ting treated and the way we get paid.

“We can pro­duce it here, just give us a fair re­turn on our prod­uct.”

Men­gel Dairy pro­duced about three mil­lion litres of milk a year, which is no longer avail­able for con­sumers.

Is­abel is plead­ing for the Gov­ern­ment to treat dairy farmers fairly.

“Scott Mor­ri­son has just an­nounced $5 bil­lion to help farmers but it doesn’t come un­til 2020. All the dairy farms will be closed by then,” she said.

“Farmers feel like there is no help com­ing.

“We are the back­bone of this coun­try. You can’t find more hard-work­ing peo­ple than farmers.

“We never have a break or a day off.

“We don’t want char­ity, we just want a fair price.

“We want a sus­tain­able in­dus­try.”

Rowan said he would be grow­ing crops as a source of in­come.

“We’re go­ing to grow some grain crops and a bit of for­age sorghum,” he said.

“I’ve still got heifers here that have calves on them, so I have to grow feed for them.

“I used to be self-suf­fi­cient and grow all my own fod­der, pad­dock feed and silage. But that much dry weather has just beat me.

“I would say this is it for me. I’m 66 and I don’t think I’m go­ing to go back into dairy again.

“At this point in time there is no in­cen­tive to go back with the price of milk.”

Dairy cows in a dry pad­dock at Men­gel Dairy.

Rowan and Is­abel Men­gel had to feed their dairy cows as it was too dry to grow feed for them.

The last truck of milk leaves Men­gel Dairy af­ter 100 years of dairy farm­ing.

PHOTO: KEVIN FARMER

TOUGH CALL: Is­abel and Rowan Men­gel made the heart­break­ing de­ci­sion to close their 100-year-old dairy.

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