Farmers in crisis

By Sophie Baldwin

In the past week, 2000 dairy cows have left the Cohuna area alone.

Desperate farmers are exiting the dairy industry or downsizing herd numbers at an alarming rate.

And there are real fears this is just the beginning.

Dry conditions, high water prices, expensive input costs and a milk price that is nowhere near the cost of production has forced the hand of the region’s already stressed farmers.

Cohuna dairy farmer Nathan McGann said five years ago there were 62 dairy farms between Cohuna and Gunbower; now there are just 17.

He is one of the statistics, having sold his entire dairy herd at the start of February.

Young dairy farmer Miriam Crane has sold the majority of her dairy herd and parked the nucleus in southern Victoria in a desperate bid to stay in the industry she loves.

Leitchville farmers Sue and Mark Woods were going to milk 400 cows this autumn, but there is a very real possibility that number could fall as low as 100 if conditions stay dry and next season’s allocations remain low.

This is just a snapshot of the pain dairy farmers across the region are feeling.

Cohuna stock agent Brock Fletcher said 2000 dairy cows went through their books last week.

‘‘People have just had enough,’’ Mr Fletcher said.

‘‘They are making no money and can’t keep increasing their debt; no-one is listening and they are just going backwards at 100 miles an hour.’’

Mr Fletcher said some of the cows had gone to dairying areas in southern Victoria and to a few local dairies that have bore water, but the rest are being sent to the abattoir.

‘‘Dairy farmers in this area have also been crippled by the ban on export heifers because of blue tongue and in the past this provided much-needed income and allowed people to continue to trade,’’ he said.

‘‘The bulk of dairy farmers are just done in and it is a very sad world where a litre of water costs more then a litre of milk.’’

Greenham group livestock manager Graeme Pretty said cull numbers were up 30 per cent.

‘‘Normally we have a cull in spring and a cull again in autumn but numbers haven’t slowed down at all this season,’’ he said.

Mr Pretty has been in the abattoir game since 1970 and he said this was by far the worst period he has ever experienced.

‘‘To see what has happened just breaks your heart and I really feel for the farmers.

‘‘Northern Victoria was such a productive dairy area but even the strongly held family areas are shutting down.

‘‘Milk has been far too cheap for far too long and it won’t be long before we are facing a chronic milk shortage.’’

And the dairy industry is not the only sector feeling the pain.

Former rice grower Peter McCallum recently sold his rice farm and fears irrigation may become a distant memory for the southern Riverina.