THE OTHER week we sent 20 cows from our Crossley dairy farm to slaughter. That’s on top of the 15 we sent a few weeks before.
These were good dairy cows, profitable and well in-milk. We wanted to keep them. But the sad truth is we probably couldn’t afford to feed them through the summer.
Another sad truth? It didn’t have to be this way.
Over the last several weeks farmers in south-west Victoria have been culling cows to reduce the size of the Victorian herd, cows that right now are profitable and well in-milk. This is while there is plenty of grass in the paddocks and rain forecast.
Why? Because this summer we won’t be able to afford to buy in any feed since prices have skyrocketed.
Thanks to the freight subsidies State Governments have offered to drought-affected farmers in NSW and Queensland, all the feed from states and regions not affected by drought has headed north, so the little we are left with is very expensive and poor quality. Government actions have distorted the market.
We made the decision to de-stock now and conserve whatever spare grass we have so we know we can look after the rest of our herd, no matter what the summer brings.
Many forward-thinking Victorian dairy farmers are doing the same; mitigating losses and developing buffers.
For many of us, this is the only way our businesses will survive.
Our businesses will have to shrink and our industry is heading for a significant reduction in milk production.
It will take several years for us to rebuild our herds and that means our industry will have to work hard to ensure we don’t lose too much space on supermarket shelves to imported dairy product that is made to far lower quality and safety standards.
Will it impact what consumers pay? Perhaps.
Or maybe supermarkets will refuse to pass any increased costs on to shoppers, instead sending even more farming businesses to the wall, all while our politicians, the architects of this mess, bemoan cheap milk and even cheaper imported cheese.
The fact we have no co-ordinated national approach to drought policy is destroying farming businesses.
The response to the drought is at best piecemeal. Our political leaders apply bandaids as problems arise, never seeming to realise that every action has a reaction: more feed heading north is just moving feed shortages further south.
It is rare that a complex problem has a simple, short-term fix. But that is what we keep getting from our politicians. We need a considered plan, not a lottery.
What we need is a national strategy for climate change and agriculture that ensures that the consequences of any decision-making in response to drought are carefully considered.
That strategy also needs to ensure that all farmers are supported to make those tough decisions early.
Global warming means we are heading into new territory. The recent IPCC report on 1.5 degrees warming made that very clear.
Farmers must be equipped with the right information toolkit in order to run profitable and sustainable businesses long-term.
Any national strategy for climate change and agriculture is going to be too late to save the Victorian cows currently heading to slaughter.
It can make a massive difference, however, to the long-term viability of Australia’s dairy industry.
• Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil is a Crossley dairy farmer and a Farmers for Climate Action member.