End of era as last truck leaves 100-year-old dairy
Poor milk prices and drought take their toll
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
“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.
TOUGH CALL: Isabel and Rowan Mengel made the heartbreaking decision to close their 100-year-old dairy.