RESPECTED farm consultant John Mulvany has confirmed the worst fears of Gippsland dairy farmers.
Mr Mulvany, who is in contact with farmers across the region, said the failure of spring rains has meant that silage harvesting has been dealt a severe blow.
“It appears that the worst fears of a stalled spring with the accompanying limited fodder conservation has become a reality,” he said.
“The fact that Gippsland, in general, is better off than most dairying areas in Victoria, does not help individual Gippslanders who now have to navigate through the next few months with caution, preserving their businesses to be able to bounce back when rain does arrive.”
Mr Mulvany said that, while farmers would be experiencing different conditions across the region, there are some statistics that place the current conditions into perspective.
• Most areas are 25 per cent down on annual rainfall and, critically, October rain has been less than 1mm in many areas, compared to the usual 50 to 60mm.
• October growth rates range from 8 to 75kg DM/ha/day, reflecting a spring drought in some areas to normal in others, but in general consumption is exceeding growth.
• Milk price has held, $5.60/kg MS, or about 41c/L, is a milk price worth keeping cows milking for.
• Those who got in early reaped the benefit of 100 per cent higher chopper prices. These are now falling due to the sudden influx of cows from all regions.
Mr Mulvany said that those that have been through seasons like this before know that there are common sense principles that good farmers apply to ensure future resilience – no matter how unpalatable they might seem.
Important action to consider:
• Early pregnancy testing is an obvious “given”.
• Cull passengers early and keep the majority of cows milking. It is less damaging financially to keep in-calf cows milking rather than drying off.
• Below 0.9kg MS or 13 litres production, more than 50 per cent of intake is going into maintenance, which makes no money. The longer cows can stay above this level the better.
• It’s OK if cow condition suffers a bit, but not to the extent that it decreases responses to supplements or next year’s performance significantly.
• Review the costs (other than feed) that logically should reduce as a result of milking fewer cows. For example, should dropping 30 cows change the cost of labour?
• Review possible feed sources. Your specific diet combination will depend upon what’s available. A guide is: for every 1kg of fibre, you can feed 1.6kg of concentrate.
• Review how much fodder and how long you think you’ll need to plan for. The optimist would go 100 days and the pessimist 180 days.
• Continue good pasture management. A discussion about pasture management may not seem relevant in such conditions, but in most areas it will be.
• Crunch the numbers. How does it all get paid for? For some, this will be just dipping into cash reserves or using FMDs for what they are intended. For others, it will mean extended overdrafts and even factory finance.
Mr Mulvany said farmers who take control of the situation tend to cope better than those who haven’t established a clear plan.
“Remember, daily stress levels tend to drop if the problem has been acknowledged and a plan put in place,” he said.
“It also doesn’t hurt to ask someone else to have a look at your plan.”
A more detailed version of John Mulvany’s thoughts on how to tackle the current season can be found at www.gippsdairy.com.au or on the GippsDairy Facebook page.