Positive mindset during tough times

By Sophie Baldwin

RIDING TOUGH times in the industry they love

It’s been a tough run for young couple Steve and April Kunde since they took over the running of their Mincha dairy farm in 2016.

Both from dairying backgrounds — April’s in northern Victoria and Steve’s in Queensland, the couple certainly knew what they were in for — they just had no idea temporary water prices would climb into the stratosphere and severely impact the livelihood of their business and the industry they love.

The 365 ha farm was initially purchased by April and her parents during the millennium drought. It was bought dry, with no water and not a blade of grass (it was a former dairy farm which had been converted to beef).

“The year we stepped on here with the cows we had three inches of rain and it was covered in grass,” April said.

Initially the farm was run as a dry block in conjunction with her parents’ farm but in 2012 they built a 20-a-side swing-over and began milking.

The couple have slowly worked their way around the farm improving internal fencing and pastures and they have been lucky to be able to run with all the existing irrigation infrastructure.

An almost total reliant on the temporary water market and the exorbitant costs this season have severely affected what they could sow this autumn — the cows normally graze an 80 ha milking platform and another 80 ha is used for cereals.

“Our hay suppliers were running out of hay in February, so we sourced enough to get us through to autumn and we chose to buy temporary water. We could only afford to buy 60 Ml which has given us 32 ha of rye grass and clovers,” Steve said.

The pasture was irrigated once and just as it was starting to wilt, follow-up rains saved the day.

“Our dry land is just hanging on. We were hoping to get 20 mm of rain over the weekend (late June) but we only got 6 mm.

“We have sown 70 ha of crop, but we were pretty late getting that in and we will certainly need a good spring to finish that off.

“We were lucky to get an earlier break this autumn to save us from disaster,” he said.

The dairy was built in 2012 with a majority of the work done by Steve.

For the 2018–19 season, they used 200 Ml of water, 50 of which was carried over.

“We had 10 ha of sorghum we strip fed from January through to May and that 200 Ml also included stock and domestic, so you can’t say farmers aren’t economical water users.”

The 180-cow Jersey herd is now happily grazing the rye and clover pasture.

Milking 180 allows the business to be self-sufficient for fodder in a normal season.

The Kundes supply Saputo because it is the only milk company who will pick up their milk because they are rather isolated geographically.

“I would be happy with our milk price — if they gave us water with it, but our input costs are just so high,” Steve said.

They hope they will be able to continue their dream of dairy farming, but things will certainly have to turn around quickly in the future.

“We have come in to dairying and had to pay high-end prices for water, cattle and land,” April said.

“We can’t afford infrastructure like feed pads, wagons and machinery, we need an efficient pasture-based system where we open the gate to the paddock and the cows walk in — it’s the cheapest way for us to feed our cows.”

April said keeping labour costs down and doing everything themselves had helped keep them in the industry.

“We have been through so many different things over the years, drought, floods and a summer cold snap where we lost our heifers, but we still want to farm, this is what we love and what our children love,” she said.

They have managed to hang onto all of their young stock but if the situation doesn’t improve, they will be unloaded next.

“The goal is to keep the milking herd going, but if things don’t improve it will be the young stock that go this year, followed by the herd next,” Steve said.

April attended Dairy Australia’s dairy plan meeting in Cohuna in June and thought it was a good opportunity to voice what she sees as the problems within the industry.

“It depends what they do with results and whether or not any of it translates into action,” she said.

“At least Dairy Australia are talking to us now whereas before, they used to do things without us having a say at all, especially considering our industry is on the verge of collapse.”

April said representation within the dairy industry had been terrible and no-one had defended the industry at all.

“Something needs to change, and we need someone to speak out for us, it is frustrating to see fees go out of our milk cheque to groups who do nothing for us and don’t step in to promote our industry.

“Water is the biggest problem we have and when farmers can’t afford to buy it there is something drastically wrong,” she said.