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Coastal dairy farmers and communities feeling effects of drought too

Wiriya Sati, Tuesday October 1, 2019 - 06:48 EST
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The ground water is so low it would take decent ongoing rain is to save the farms depending on the Hastings River - ABC

The drought west of the divide is stark, but as its grip tightens on the coastal fringe, farmers there are facing some tough decisions.

Like the west, the knock-on effect to communities is being felt.

Lisa France and Craig Ford are one farming couple who are struggling on the New South Wales mid-north coast.

They were leasing a dairy at Berry on the south coast, an area known for its dairy industry, but they wanted to own a farm.

They moved north looking for security, and found a dairy on the Hastings River, less than 50 kilometres from the coast.

"We came up here over three years ago and bought our own farm, which was always a dream of ours I suppose, and then we've walked into one of the biggest droughts on record," Ms France said.

The river was the biggest drawcard as they were told it would be a guaranteed water supply, but that has turned out not to be the case.

"Basically, that was water security for us but it didn't quite eventuate," Ms France said.

"We got cut off irrigation a week and a half ago which has affected us greatly because we can't grow grass, and with the diminished production of the cows, we can't afford to buy feed anymore."

They started with 400 head of cattle but have had to cull their herd because they just cannot afford to feed them.

"You spend every day of the year with them; you calve them, they're sick, you're there, your whole life is around them," Mr Ford said.

"Then to see them just get put on the truck and become a waste product is devastating."

Spending patterns of locals

Local towns in the region like Wauchope and Wingham that depend on the local farming industry are already , according to local dairy consultant Mark Livermore.

"The dairy industry in the Hastings and Manning Valleys produces around about 40 million litres of milk a year," he said.

"That's a $120 million that comes into this region [and] it's impacting right across the dairy industry.

Dairy Australia figures, [show] dairy production for this year will be down again, probably close to 8 billion litres, where we got up to 12 billion just after deregulation."

Representative for the Wauchope Chamber of Commerce, Lisa McPherson, believes there is a flow-on effect — whether dairy, meat, or crops — due to the large farming community in the Hastings region.

"While as a region we may not be doing it as tough as our neighbours to the west, we certainly acknowledge the impact of drought to our own local supply chain," she said.

"This may also be affecting the spending patterns of our domestic consumers.

"Anecdotally, we're aware of operators in the agricultural industry who are trying to assist our farmers with sharing the supply where they can."

Ms McPherson said a community mindset was needed to help everybody get through the tough times.

"It's important for people to buy local food where they can and support local producers because that makes a big difference," she said.

'Shop local, buy Australian, pray for rain'

Mr Livermore said a price rise at the retail level was needed, including all dairy products, to bring 70 cents per litre back to the farmers.

"We really need to increase the price at the retail end of the market, across not only milk but cheeses as well, because it takes 10 litres of milk to make a litre of cheese," he said.

While the general public can still buy milk at their convenience, there are some things they can do to help farmers.

"Support your local butcher, support your local baker, and all your corner stores," Mr Ford said.

"Because if they're not there putting a bit of competition back onto the supermarkets, us as farmers, we'll just get dictated to — 'This is what you're getting paid' — and we've got no other option.

"Just shop local, buy Australian [and] apart from that, pray for rain.

"There's better times ahead and you've just got to believe that the weather will turn — that's the only thing that gets me out of bed at the moment."


© ABC 2019

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