The Big Guy and I own a farm in the upper Hunter Valley and we buy and sell cattle at the local yard sales. It’s not a lot of cattle but enough to make a little money here and there. At the time we purchase our last stock, times were good, we had plenty of feed so we bought 20 head of cattle at $750 each. Last week hubby put the order on to sell the cattle as we’re dangerously low on feed. We were told we’d be lucky to get $300 per head. That’s a $9,000 loss. Fortunately we have other incomes and don’t rely solely on our farm for subsistence but it still hurts. The piece below was written by Rob and Katrina Blomfield in Walcha NSW and it tells the real tale of how the current drought is affecting many farming families across our country. I urge you to share this story to get it to the people who have the ability to assist farmers in their time of need.
DROUGHT-NORTHERN TABLELANDS 2013-2014
Rob & Katrina Blomfield
Walcha NSW 2354
We have been keeping rainfall records on our property since 1945 as an official weather station for the Bureau of Meteorology. The lowest cumulative rainfall for the April to Jan period (10 months) appears below which represents the worst 10 years since 1945. Our average rainfall is 927mm per year.
2012 584.4mm (March to Dec was 419.7mm)
As you can see the period from April 2013 to Jan 2014 is the lowest 10 month rainfall on record on our property even though it was wet in March after good rains in January & February 2013. These good rains fell after a 10 month period in 2012 from March to December where we only received 419.7mm. The rain stopped on the 5th March 2012 and we were feeding our stock from July 2012 to the end of Jan 2013.
These rains in Jan/Feb 2013 filled our dams and our pastures were making a reasonable recovery when the rain stopped again and by July 2013 the pastures were once again stressed. We began feeding our livestock for the second year in a row in July 2013 and we have been feeding ever since.
Our rainfall for Dec 2013 was 17.5mm which is the lowest on record for Dec. (average is 103.7mm)
Our rainfall for Jan 2014 was 16.5mm which is the lowest on record for Jan (average is 131.9)
The evaporation has also been extraordinary for the last 4 months given unprecedented heat was and strong winds we have had in the New England over the last 3 months.
We were banking on receiving at least some decent summer rainfall which has occurred in EVERY year since 1945 except for 1965 and to a lesser extent in 1980 so our preparedness was to plant fodder crops that could take us through the winter. Unfortunately, our summers rains have not eventuated so we have no fodder crops for our stock. Surely you would take a gamble on a 90% chance. The Bureau of Meteorology long range forecasts have been so inaccurate that we have taken to ignoring them.
This drought is not confined to the Northern Tablelands. It is a widespread severe drought that is affecting the whole of Eastern Australia.
Crossbred lamb sales are terrible. Lambs are being sold off in store condition for $30-$40 as farmers are unable to fatten them. They would normally receive $100-140 in prime condition.
Stud ram sales are experiencing only between 40-70% clearance with an average of 30% drop in prices.
Most maiden merinos will be too light to join and some older ewes will not cycle so there will be low lambing percentages next year.
Current merino weaners are 25% lighter than normal and are unlikely to ever achieve their genetic potential in terms of their wool cut due to the lack of follicle development caused by lack of optimal nutrition.
Many wool clips were tender last year and so received lower wool prices which are already at 20 year lows for Superfine wool. This year farmers face the prospect of another tender wool clip. Not only is the clip tender but farmers are facing the prospect of cutting 10-20% less wool than normal because of the drought conditions.
Most farmers experiencing this drought have sold off all their surplus stock and are back to their core breeding stock and weaners that are unsaleable because they are underweight for the market.Store stock prices are disastrous and stock are selling for about half their normal price and less.
The price for a cow which is pregnancy tested in calf (PTIC) at the saleyards is currently between $400-$500 which is half of what they are normally worth. If you are forced to sell these cows then you also lose the income you would receive from the calf the following year which would be between approx $500-$600.
To replace these cows (PTIC) when the drought breaks will probably cost approx $1200 and then the next income you receive from this investment is in the autumn of 2016.
This whole scenario adds up to a total loss of about $2200 per beast because you are forced to sell your breeding cows.
Farmers are weaning the calves much earlier than normal and having to feed them to keep them going.
Most weaners are unsaleable.
The feed situation is critical. Feed is very difficult to source and are having to source feed from interstate which is extremely expensive to freight. Farmers need access to feed at reasonable prices to maintain their breeding stock.
Fodder is available in Western Australia but farmers simply cannot afford to freight it across to the Eastern States.
30-50% of gross farm income in drought affected areas will be required to pay for feed to keep core breeding stock alive-approx $400-$500 per head for cattle and $25 per head for sheep if farmers have to feed their stock for another 12 months.
We have spent 40 years developing our farm into a sustainable and productive enterprise, using improved pastures, natural fertilisers, subdivision and rotational grazing systems. We are considered to be good progressive farmers in our district. With the record low rainfall and heat, these pastures are at risk of being totally lost. The cost of replacing our pastures once this drought breaks is enormous and will cost $500 per ha for the pasture that is lost. Every farmer in a drought affected area is in the same boat.
EVERY PERSON needs a farmer-they are the lifeblood of our existence. Just occasionally every farmer needs YOUR help.
Many city people have a pet-a cat or a dog and sometimes both. Think of how you look after and love that animal. Your pet needs to be fed and given clean water usually on a daily basis. Would you feel good if you could only feed your pet once or twice a week and have to reduce the amount of feed by half? And what if you only had access to dirty water that was full of dirt & clay for your pet to drink? And you watched your pet lose weight in the process-would you not feel bad and stressed?
Think of how the farmers are feeling when they experience a natural disaster such as a severe drought which many farmers are currently experiencing and they have no feed for their animals. The water in the dams is extremely low and the animals are hungry & thirsty. The cattle walk into the dams and stir up the water-some of them get stuck in the mud and then the sheep come to get a drink and they get stuck in the mud as well around the edge of the dam. The farmer has to struggle to pull them and some die as the farmer is not able to save them in time. The famer then has to fence the dam off as the water is no longer suitable to drink. He is trying to look after thousands of animals, often with no help.
Currently farmers are feeding their livestock every day starting at daylight and finishing in the dark. They are trying to feed all their stock 2-3 times a week so they have to rotate the feed around as you cannot feed all your stock in a single day. There are no weekend breaks; There are no annual holidays.
There is no grass available in other areas in either NSW or Queensland where farmers can send their stock on agistment.
Abattoirs and feedlots are overflowing and can’t take any more livestock for at least another 6-8 weeks.
If you send your sheep and cattle to the saleyards to try and sell them, then you will get paid a pittance for them but for many farmers that is better than seeing them die.
Farmers just want to be able to save their core breeding stock.
Many farmers are simply emotionally drained-they have run out of puff after feeding their animals for the best part of 18 months already. They do not have the financial resources to keep going. Feed is extremely difficult to source and some is coming from interstate-it is costing twice as much as normal because it is in short supply. We have to plan to feed our animals for another year as the drought will not break in the New England ( now that we have missed our Spring/Summer rains) until at least next Spring/Summer.
The budget for feeding our stock for another 12 months is frightening to say the least.
Drought has not even been declared in our area even though it is the worst drought we have ever seen and it has already been going on for 2 years. We have been quietly going about our business managing like we always do but this situation is now a crisis.
Most farmers have debts and in times like severe droughts they come under severe financial pressure and they have to service those debts like everyone else. In this drought the financial pressure and hardship will be too much to bear for many. The implications for loss of income going forward for the next few years is looking very grim indeed.
Our local communities are also suffering. We are all in this together-if we suffer a severe downturn in income then all our local businesses experience a severe downturn in their income. This drought is affecting EVERYBODY who lives in a drought affected area.
The Government is giving help to people who experienced a Category 1 cyclone last week in Queensland under natural disaster relief.
This drought is going to cost billions in lost income to the economy and it is a natural disaster that is simply not being recognised by anybody in Canberra It is starting to break the moral courage of the backbone of this nation. We are not whinging cockies!! and we are certainly not rich like many people think but we are emotionally very fragile and worn out and it would be nice to know that the people of Australia supported us and gave us a go. Both Federal & State Governments have totally abandoned the agricultural sector and give NO RECOGNITION for the contribution it makes to the economy or the contribution that rural australia makes to the fabric of our society.
Australian farmers are the only farmers in the world who are not subsidised and we are receiving prices for our products that we received 20 years ago. American farmers get paid twice as much for their cattle as Australian farmers do by the same Multinational companies who control the international meat market.
If every Australian had their wages cut in half and they still had to pay off their home loans and they had to pay twice as much for their groceries I wonder how they would manage?
Removing drought from the Natural Disaster legislation in 2012 was a mistake and it should be reinstated. Who can predict a 1 in 100 year drought and why is it less of a disaster than a flood, fire or storm?? It has the same financial, emotional & social impact and often the recovery period is much longer.