Saved from drought

North East and Goul­burn farm­ers es­cape the worst

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

BRUCE McCor­mack can still re­mem­ber the day he shot 500 of his fa­ther-in-law’s sheep.

The year was 1982, and the gov­ern­ment pro­vided bul­lets for free.

Bul­lets, worth a few cents, were a bet­ter op­tion than keep­ing stock alive.

Bruce mus­tered the sheep into the yards on the Strath­bo­gie farm, and sys­tem­at­i­cally shot them, one by one. It is a mem­ory that still haunts him. “I re­mem­ber that day – not be­cause of the con­di­tions, of the dry or the heat, but be­cause we were walk­ing through a yard and shoot­ing my fa­ther-in-law’s liveli­hood,” he said.

“You turned around, and all you could see were dead sheep ly­ing on the ground - and still hun­dreds more to go.

“I’ll never for­get it – it broke both our hearts.”

Fast for­ward 35 years and Bruce is one of the few farm­ers in the North East sidestep­ping sim­i­lar con­di­tions.

He and his fam­ily run a com­mer­cial An­gus op­er­a­tion out of Mer­ri­jig – one that has been in his fam­ily for seven gen­er­a­tions.

Nes­tled into the base of the High Coun­try, Bruce’s op­er­a­tion spans 700 acres – and most of it has been spared the dev­as­tat­ing con­di­tions crip­pling the rest of the coun­try.

De­spite the re­prieve, or per­haps be­cause of it, Bruce feels noth­ing but sym­pa­thy for those bat­tling a spring with no rain.

“We will be ok – we had an­other 11ml mid-Septem­ber, and while it won’t be much of a sea­son, it won’t send us to the wall,” Bruce said.

“I feel for those who are do­ing it tough – we’ve been through it, but never for years at a time; they’ve for­got­ten what a good year looks like.”

Just over the moun­tains and Mi­lawa farmer John Con­roy has called for a com­plete over­haul of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to deal­ing with the drought.

Like Bruce, John farms in an area that has been rel­a­tively shielded from drought.

But, he said, there were thou­sands of oth­ers far less for­tu­nate.

“We are all help­lessly watch­ing the drought in NSW and Queens­land crip­pling agri­cul­ture,” he said.

“We are fac­ing a failed win­ter crop, along with de­pleted grain and fod­der re­serves in the sup­ply sys­tem and due to that, the live­stock in­dus­tries are pay­ing un­af­ford­able rates to grow, main­tain, or pro­duce com­modi­ties from live­stock.

“Should this be the case - or are our gov­ern­ing bod­ies fleec­ing us?

“Our gov­ern­ment needs to stop ne­glect­ing our farm­ers and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

John wants Aus­tralians to unite, giv­ing voice to their con­cerns to lo­cal MPs, bank man­agers and di­rect to the gov­ern­ment be­fore it’s too late.

“We can’t just sit and wait for gov­ern­ment to act in the best in­ter­ests of our coun­try,” he said.

“Aus­tralian farm­ers re­quire swift ac­tions from our lead­ers to help soften the blow and try to have our agri­cul­tural sec­tors re­main vi­able into the fu­ture.”

Al­most two hours to the east and Greg Brooks runs 300 milk­ing cows on his dairy farm at Strath­mer­ton.

At­tracted to the area a decade ago for its cen­tral lo­ca­tion, 20 inch rain­fall and deep lead bore, Greg is like­wise fac­ing a tough sea­son - but not as tough as some. " We are still look­ing to find a cou­ple of hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars with grain, wa­ter and other costs,” he said.

300 “We tonnes nor­mally of fine-chop cut silage - this sea­son it might be 150200 tonnes in­stead – but it will still be rea­son­able for us.”

Greg is al­ready con­tem­plat­ing sow­ing sorghum or mil­let as a sum­mer crop to bol­ster feed, and will con­sider pulling back his milk­ing herd if the sea­son con­tin­ues to worsen.

“We haven’t had sub­stan­tial rain­fall here for quite a pe­riod of time – you only have to look at crops in the re­gion to know ev­ery­one is strug­gling,” he said.

Last month, 12 month old bucket reared Friesian steers sold to a top of $116 at Echuca.

Fur­ther proof, Greg said, that the prob­lem was com­pounded across the in­dus­try.

“You ob­vi­ously lose money sell­ing them for that – but ev­ery­thing else is be­ing ef­fected by the sea­son; hay and grain prices are ef­fected, so then the abil­ity to feed is – things could re­ally drop away sub­stan­tially in milk pro­duc­tion over the next 6-12 months,” Greg said.

Cur­rently, over 40 per cent of dairy farms are lo­cated in drought af­fected re­gions, with more than 2000 dairy farms af­fected across New South Wales, Queens­land, Mur­ray and East Gipp­s­land.

Dairy Aus­tralia’s Hay and Grain Re­port high­lights the re­al­ity of the ris­ing feed prices.

In the Mur­ray Dairy re­gion, where dairy is un­der­pinned by ac­cess to ir­ri­ga­tion, prices for wa­ter have been el­e­vated on the tem­po­rary mar­ket, trad­ing at over $300 per me­gal­itre.

Due to the de­mand for fod­der from drought af­fected re­gions, hay prices have more than dou­bled since Jan­uary, cost­ing farm­ers up to $425/ tonne ex­clud­ing GST in the Mur­ray Dairy re­gion.

Grain prices have also in­creased over 60 per cent in the same time pe­riod, to $420/ tonne.

“Typ­i­cally, farm­ers will grow the bulk of their an­nual feed sup­ply in spring, but for many dairy farm­ers, no­tably those along Aus­tralia’s east coast, it will be tough to achieve the growth re­quired and farm­ers will need to con­sider feed pur­chases to ad­dress the gap,” chair of Dairy Aus­tralia, Jeff Odgers, said.

“Our ma­jor con­cern is that we have seen ris­ing feed costs heav­ily im­pact­ing farm­ers’ cash flow and ac­cess to feed, par­tic­u­larly fi­bre, is be­com­ing much harder.

“This means as dairy farm­ers try to hold core herd num­bers to­gether, they’re more ex­posed to the in­flated feed costs we’re see­ing across Aus­tralia.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy (BOM), win­ter rain­fall for Vic­to­ria was be­low av­er­age across the north and east of the state, while in the southwest and south it was gen­er­ally close to av­er­age.

The BOM has also is­sued the Oc­to­ber – De­cem­ber cli- mate out­look, which in­di­cates large parts of Aus­tralia are likely to be drier than av­er­age.

This month, there is a strong like­li­hood of drier con­di­tions across most of the coun­try, with a drier and warmer-than-av­er­age end to the year mean­ing there will be a low chance of re­cov­ery for drought-af­fected ar­eas of east­ern Aus­tralia.

HELP THE IN­DUS­TRY: John Con­roy is a beef farmer from Mi­lawa, and is call­ing for a com­plete over­haul of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to deal­ing with the drought.

DAIRY IN­DUS­TRY SUF­FER­ING: Chair of Dairy Aus­tralia, Jeff Odgers, has said farm­ers in the Mur­ray Dairy re­gion were be­ing af­fected by the re­al­ity of ris­ing op­er­at­ing costs, with wa­ter trad­ing at over $300 per me­gal­itre, hay prices cost­ing $425/tonne and grain prices sky­rock­et­ing 60 per cent since Christ­mas.

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