Dairy exit likely for many in north Victoria

14 Feb, 2019 12:00 PM
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DAIRY CRISIS: The ongoing cost of water and feed sees Echuca farmer Marshall Jacobs getting ready to leave the industry.
The recent heatwave and the high cost of water had been the final straw.
DAIRY CRISIS: The ongoing cost of water and feed sees Echuca farmer Marshall Jacobs getting ready to leave the industry.

Echuca, Vic, dairy farmer Marshall Jacobs says the burst of extreme hot weather in the past few weeks has cemented his decision to give the game away.

Mr Jacobs has seen his milk production slashed by more than one million litres a year since the dairy crisis of 2016.

“I'm going to give it away and go and find a job that pays,” Mr Jacobs said.

He, and wife Suzi, had an end date in mind, but it was a matter of coming to terms with it.

“We want to be able to exit the industry knowing we have exhausted every avenue and tried to place our cows in the best environment we can,” he said.

“If we can’t, there’s the inevitable - off to Greenhams.

“It’s a good, young herd, 55 are first and second calvers in full production, with their whole future ahead of them.”

He said the recent heatwave and the high cost of water had been the final straw.

“I spend $8800 a year for water, whether I use it or not, but we haven’t bought any this year," he said.

"This hot weather knocks the stuffing out of everything.

“We expect hot weather, it’s January in Australia, it’s always going to get hot, but we are out of water now, so some hard decisions have to be made.”

The carryover water was used on permanent pasture early in the season when his herd was calving.

He also had 10 hectares of lucerne on the 40ha block “that kept us going quite well".

But he estimated he needed another 140-150 megalitres of water to keep things going, and with prices sitting at more than $500 megalitre, it was time to reassess his options.

“When your hay bill is going to be more than your milk cheque, without taking into account the grain bill, something has to give,” he said.

Before the dairy crisis hit, he was milking 220 cows and producing 1.3 million litres a year.

This season that was down to 72 cows and 460,000 litres.

Even higher milk prices would do little to ease his concerns.

“How do people get to the point, where they benefit from a better milk price?" he said.

“It’s always six months away.”

He said he had been approached by a small processor, “panicking about next season".

Mr Jacobs said the processor didn’t baulk at claims that he would have to pay between $9-$10 kilograms/milk solids to secure supply.

"Winter is either dry, and there’s no hay around to feed cattle, or exceptionally wet; all we are going to do next season is pay financial catch-up to pay for this season," he said.

Heat another crisis for dairy industry

“I find it a total and utter giggle that these processors don’t see dairy in Northern Victoria is a dying industry.

“We don’t want to dig the financial hole any deeper.

“The light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for dairy farmers in northern Victoria, is getting smaller and smaller and further away into the distance.”

He said any dairy farmer an hour south of the Murray River, from Mildura to Wodonga, would be having serious doubts about their future.

“The only saving grace me and my wife find out of this is that it’s not something we have done to bankrupt ourselves," he said.

“It’s nationwide and it’s not just dairy with the drought.”

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StockLand
Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

is a journalist for Stock and Land
Twitter: @journoandy26

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