Dairy

Forced to sell milking herd

By Sophie Baldwin

Neil Parker is the fourth generation of his family to dairy farm.

And he will probably be the last.

It is all he has known and all he has ever done.

But he has had enough, he is tired and he is drained.

‘‘I am over it. I have put my life into dairy farming but I can’t keep borrowing money to stay in — this industry just has problem after problem,’’ Mr Parker said.

Mr Parker and his wife Sarah originally farmed at Rochester but moved to their current 110ha property at Kyabram after their irrigation system was shut down.

‘‘We moved to the Goulburn system for water security but that certainly hasn’t eventuated,’’ he said.

The farm has a small allocation but relies on the temporary water market for most of its irrigation requirements.

Mr Parker spent $100000 laser grading half of his farm to improve water efficiency and has only been able to irrigate it once.

Last spring he watched all his cereal crops die because the high cost of temporary water made it too expensive to purchase.

In a normal season he would use about 500Ml — this season, that amount would have cost him $250000.

And he can’t afford the $50000 he needs to buy 100Ml of water to start up this autumn.

He has spoken to a stock agent and is hoping to sell his 200 milkers in what has now become a familiar story across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

‘‘My field officer came out and said ‘I have worked out a way for you to feed the cows through to March’.

‘‘We are already in the can $50000 this year in outstanding bills and we just can’t keep borrowing money to ride it out,’’ Mr Parker said.

‘‘I am tired, and I am over it.’’

Mr Parker said being unable to export heifers due to the blue tongue ban had also hit his business hard.

‘‘Two years ago we were able to export some heifers which went a fair way toward helping us get through, but that is not as easy as it once was.’’

While things have been tough, a recent visit by Rural Aid to the farm has given the family a much-needed reason to smile.

‘‘Rural Aid has come on board and we have had six people here doing a bit of work for us. They rang a month ago and I ummed and ahhed because I didn’t think I was worthy enough of the cause — but they have been great,’’ he said.

Mr Parker has been able to get his tractor and motorbike serviced by some visiting mechanics from Honda, a much-needed fence is to be built around the dam and a plumber has put some new spouting on the house and installed a new watering system in the veggie garden.

‘‘The dam was high on our list of priorities because we have young kids. My post-hole digger didn’t work and I have even been able to get that fixed. We had a couple of ladies get our veggie garden back up and running, which has been great for Sarah too.

‘‘There have been some great friendships developed and when you sit around the table you soon learn everyone has their own problems to deal with.’’

The visit also bought with it a much needed delivery of hay for not just the Parkers’ herd but some other farming families in the district.

‘‘I can feed out five or six rolls a day — and at $100 a roll it certainly helps,’’ Mr Parker said.

Rural Aid general manager Wayne Thomson said things in the bush were getting worse.

‘‘Things are certainly not great and we just want to let people know that there is somebody out there who cares about them. The mental health of our farmers is very important but we thought a community approach would help impact a lot more people,’’ Mr Thomson said.

From a community perspective Rural Aid helped to repaint the town hall and fence Kyabram Fauna Park.

It also delivered musical instruments and school supplies to Kyabram P-12 College and St Augustine’s College.

‘‘The music teacher was crying her heart out,’’ Mr Thomson said.

He said the group had driven down from Queensland and much of the country was still in crisis.

‘‘Things are just getting tougher and tougher and there seems to be no relief in sight.’’