Lots of dairy farmers are naturally cynical and, let’s face it, we’re never entirely happy with the weather forecast. But we are optimists at heart because things will always be better next season.
Not this season.
I have never seen my fellow dairy farmers so subdued as they were at a meeting last night. Dinner at the local pub was laid on – a rarity that normally guarantees a festive mood – but somehow it felt like more like a last supper. Nor have I seen such anger online.
Partly, I think, it comes down to being battle-weary. Around here, it’s been a disastrous season. Dry-land farmers have not been able to grow grass and the La Nina we were hoping for still hasn’t arrived. By now, we should be building a wedge of grass to get the cows through winter. Instead, paddocks are eaten to the boards while farmers wait for resown paddocks to fire up.
The conventional wisdom is to apply nitrogen now while the soil’s still warm enough to grow grass. Many farmers at last night’s meeting had not applied any urea yet despite its unusually attractive cost this year because the soil is still too dry.
We can buy in more fodder or sell more cows. Fodder is getting hard to find and expensive, too. Many of us have already culled hard. The options are narrowing. We need something to go right.
It isn’t. Farmers seem sure that the milk price for 16/17 won’t be good. Will it be devastating? We’re all wondering and worrying.
On top of all this came the Murray Goulburn announcement that it had overspent this year and will have to claw money back from farmers for the next three years. None of it makes sense. Many farmers had hailed the MG plan as visionary, something that would transform our industry to create sustainable prosperity. But the loss of so much money in so little time is incomprehensible.
It’s a blow from left field that will leave barely a Victorian dairy farmer untouched. MG is the pacemaker for the entire industry. Processing half our state’s milk and 38% of Australia’s, it sets the benchmark for the southern farmgate milk price. When it falters, we all do.
In the face of all this, the message from last night’s speaker was simple: seek help, watch out for your neighbours and don’t lose sight of the vision for your farm. Good advice.