Drought burden continues

By Jeanette Severs

DROUGHT IS still holding onto East Gippsland and Wellington shires, with the lowest rainfall on record received this year, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The Orbost region recorded 0.2 mm of rain in the last week of October and an evapotranspiration of -22. BOM says soil moisture is very much below average.

In the Macalister Irrigation District, the height of Lake Glenmaggie has seen 100 per cent allocation for dairy farmers on irrigated farms. But dryland farmers are suffering.

BOM senior hydrologist Paul Feikema said an El Niño was expected in December with significantly reduced rainfall across spring in central and southern Australia.

For Newmerella (near Orbost) dryland dairy farmers, Veronica and Neil Joiner, the weather conditions have caused them to make some hard decisions early.

Mrs Joiner said they normally milked up to 280 cows but started making decisions in 2016 to help their business through the drought.

“We started reducing the herd in September 2016. We usually carry over cows but we sold 30 head,” she said.

In May 2017, they sold the empty cows.

In late 2017, the couple participated in Taking Stock before asking for an on-farm meeting with a business consultant, to discuss their options to reduce overheads and afford to buy fodder and feed.

“Talking about it in July was really hard, but we had no winter so we had to take pressure off the paddocks to make as much silage as we can to keep milking,” Mrs Joiner said.

“We also try to make decisions that will benefit us and others.”

They expected to calve down 260 cows, but sold late calvers to take pressure off themselves and the business.

Mrs Joiner said the consultant helped them work out a feed budget for 200 cows but they expected to reduce the herd to 180 in February.

“We’ve just made some silage, but pellets are now costing more than $500/tonne,” she said.

GippsDairy has funded more than 40 on-farm extension officer visits to help dairy farmers in East Gippsland and Yarram district to assess their businesses in the ongoing drought.

Mrs Joiner said she had received some funds from the Country Women’s Association of Victoria to pay for groceries and another charity organisation had sent the couple a voucher for fuel and groceries.

But she was having a great deal of trouble accessing the Farm Household Allowance, even though the Federal Government had promised additional funding for workers to help people with their FHA applications.

Mrs Joiner began her application in September and has sought assistance from Rural Financial Counselling Service counsellors and Centrelink several times.

She said the forms were difficult to navigate, questions were often replicated and the supporting information was onerous to provide. She had to scan and upload supporting documents for many aspects of the electronic form. This workload was on top of working on the farm and milking twice a day.

“The RFCS counsellor suggested I try on my own for the FHA. They have helped me collate some information. I have spent many days working on this application,” Mrs Joiner said.

“I don’t see how anyone can do this on their own. We’re trying to run a business but this is taking up a lot of time.

“I only want it so I can buy groceries.”