I was scared. The earth was scorched bare, cockchafers had decimated our paddocks and feed was at record prices. I’d been brought up on the land but was new to the experience of actually holding the reins.
I didn’t want to let my husband know how scared I was, either. He was new to farming altogether and we were betting everything we had on my skills, our sweat, the international commodity price cycle and the weather.
When we became eligible to apply for exceptional circumstances funding, I sought guidance from a Rural Financial Counsellor then locked myself in the office for two long days and sweated over the paperwork.
The first envelope in return said my application had been rejected because I was not a farmer. I was, and still am, earning some off-farm income to feed the family and the assessing officer had decided that, since I would naturally be working 38 hours a week in total, and I was clearly spending time non-farming, I was not farming at all. The reality was that I was working into the small hours to survive. After a lot of persuasion and quoting industry statistics, he conceded that, yes, perhaps I was a farmer.
The next envelope said my application had been rejected because our farm was unviable. He told me I had to show we could pay back all our loans in 10 years as well as achieving an 8% return on investment to prove my viability. My bank manager just laughed when I told him. “I don’t think of any of my clients could achieve all that,” he said.
I gave up.
Why am I telling you all this? Because there are a whole lot of people out there under the impression that drought aid is dished out like boiled lollies. Maybe I went about it the wrong way. Maybe I hit a particularly tough assessor having a tough time. But don’t tell me it’s easy pickings.
I woke to the alarming smell of smoke this morning and immediately felt anxious.
But a gentle breeze stirs only the leaves of the eucalypts and there are no malevolent plumes on the horizon. We’re safe for now. The haze blanketing the farm most likely contains the ghosts of the great trees burning at Goongerah, far to our east. There, like here, it is tinder dry and just about everything is flammable.
All the same, the dry here is nothing compared to the drought conditions in New South Wales, where, judging by the news reports, there would be little left to burn.
Wayne shrank back in his seat last night as pictures of gaunt cattle hung on the screen and muttered, “Well, we’ve got nothing to complain about then”.
Just now, I came across an opinion piece titled Australian farmers should not be treated as a protected species and found it painful to read. A drought is like a fire that goes on and on and on and on, eating through a farmer’s soul over months and years. The economics of it – the main focus of the article – are like burns: the real hurt goes much deeper and lasts far longer. Buried in the comments that follow the story is this, from “Australian Pride”:
Well, speaking as a genuine Australian farmer, things couldn’t really get much worse right now.
The seasons have been poor for years now, the climate has gone to hell and it’s getting harder and harder to keep the soil nitrogenised. Morale is pretty bloody low to be honest.
I would think about packing it all in, but farming is all I know. Farming is hard, I lost my father Chaffey was crushed to death while he was fixing some equipment in November. I suppose I feel that I have to go on for him, but when do I say enough is enough eh? That cold beer at the end of the day doesn’t taste so good when you know that your crops are dying and the hand-outs are all you have to live on.
I have kids of my own. One of them watched their grandfather getting crushed in the machinery. How can I tell them that the farm is the best place for them? What kind of future are they going to have? Sometimes I despair. Maybe we should just give it all back to the aborigines?
I wish I had the heart to illustrate so eloquently what the story’s author could not see. But farmers do get through it, somehow. My Dad used simply to say: “You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other”.
Please, don’t say you no longer care.
I suspect I am about to make a lot of enemies because there is an elephant in the room and few are in a position to point it out.
Here are the facts:
- the last season has been dreadful
- dairy farmers have free access to lots of information about we can keep cows healthy during fodder shortages
- many dairy farmers who couldn’t afford skyrocketing feed costs have sold a lot of cows at ridiculously low prices so they can feed the remainder of their cows properly
- farmers have gone broke but kept their cows healthy
- cows do not starve overnight and watching them weaken over weeks or months would be more than I could bear yet reports of them dying in their hundreds have hit the national news
I was stunned. Perhaps people who would normally sell their cows off long, long before they reached the point of starvation couldn’t for some reason? Maybe they were hoping for a miracle? Maybe they were in denial?
It just doesn’t ring true, at least not for hundreds of cows as media reports suggest.
And it’s come out today that some published pictures of “starving cattle” were actually the carcasses of cows that had died of other causes. In fact, the vet whose leaked email urging MPs to act sparked the media stories, Dr Mike Hamblin, has since told Warrnambool newspaper The Standard that there is no animal welfare problem in SW Victoria:
“Warrnambool veterinarian Mike Hamblin said there was no animal welfare crisis in the region and that he believed farmers were looking after their livestock well in a difficult financial situation. Dr Hamblin said that while some stock were thinner than normal, he had not seen any starving.”
Yes, people need help. Yes, it is wonderful that the media stories have finally got the Victorian government to reach agreement with the Commonwealth on low-interest loans.
But do we really need to paint already suffering farmers as cruel by presenting pictures of dead cows to our political leaders before action is taken? The reality is that most farmers skip their own dinners to feed our animals. These dirty tactics may have won concessional loans for a few farmers but they have blown a lot of trust and, at the end of the day, we will all be the losers.
There has to be a better way to avert what is a genuine human crisis than fabricating an animal welfare one.