IT’S not just the dairy farmers who’ve been left reeling from the shock downturn in dairy returns.
The massive hit to milk supply incomes has also delivered a swift blow to businesses which supply the industry directly with things like fertiliser, feed, fuel and equipment.
And small business operators in local towns are also bracing themselves for the fallout.
Russ Matthews of Matthews Bulk Transports and Fertilisers in Wonthaggi said he’d received calls from local customers cancelling, delaying or scaling back their orders of fertiliser.
“Normally this would be our busiest time but it has definitely quietened off.
“Everyone is working their land a lot more intensively these days and they’d usually be ordering a blend of fertilisers depending on their needs but they are either delaying it until they see what’s going to happen or just ordering some nitrogen, with a bit of moisture around, to encourage some quick growth before the winter.
“We’ve had a few cancel their orders altogether
“I’ve never seen so many guys I’ve spoken to, around my age, affected by this,” said Mr Matthews said.
“They’ve gone through downturns before but this is the first time I’ve heard them say ‘why do I bother?’ It’s the first time I’ve heard them admit that they are lacking the motivation to keep going on,” he said.
“Fortunately the beefies are still doing OK but you certainly feel for what the dairy farmers are going through at the moment.
“If they were having a good season and not needing to buy feed in, they’d be better off but that’s not the case this year.”
It’s the same story for earth moving contractors who thought they had farm projects, other farm contractors, feed suppliers and equipment retailers; anyone supplying services directly to the industry is feeling it as well.
Some farmers simply haven’t got any cash flow so purchases that can be delayed or cancelled are being held off.
Bills aren’t being paid.
President of the Leongatha Chamber of Commerce Peter Watchorn says it stands to reason that small business operators in towns like Leongatha will be similarly affected.
“They were already battling their way through the season before this so it’s got to affect all of us,” he said.
“There have been downturns before and they’ve been able to ride it through and we need that. We need people to stay in the industry.
“Milk and dairy products are still highly sought-after commodities that Australia and the world needs. Hopefully it can come back just as quickly as it seems to have hit trouble.
“But it’s tough, especially for the young ones and people who may not have been in the industry long. You certainly feel for them.”
He’s right. It’s seems as if the sudden downturn will hit the best and brightest in the industry first.
Twenty six year old Dumbalk dairy farmer, Will Ryan, should be the face of modern Australian farming.
An agribusiness degree and a member of the Victorian Government Young Farmers Ministerial Council, he has been to China as part of a trade delegation, and travelled to New Zealand on a national study tour.
But he told ABC Radio yesterday that he will have sold off all of his 400 cows by the end of the year and exited the industry.
Drought, debt and the present state of the industry are contributing factors.
“It’s difficult to get up and work 16 hours a day and to know that you’ve lost $1000 or $2000 for that day,” he said.
“Why would you do it?”
It’s a question that a lot of dairy farmers are asking themselves at the moment.
Politicians, radio jocks weigh in
At least the problem has attracted attention in high places with Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce meeting dairy farmers in Victoria’s west today, in the electorates of Corangamite and Wannon near Geelong, in the north of the state on Wednesday and Gippsland on Thursday.
At the invitation of Gippsland MP Darren Chester, he will meet with dairy farmers at Heyfield, and is also expected to make an announcement about a support package.
The issue was also aired by 2GB shock jock, Alan Jones, who was raised on a dairy farm near Oakley in Queensland. He fears the extent of the fallout which he claims has already cost one farmer’s life to suicide.
But the response has been too slow in coming according to McMillan Labor candidate Chris Buckingham.
“Malcolm Turnbull has called an election but dairy farmers are still waiting for someone in his Government to show any interest in the crisis since being left high and dry by milk processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra,” he said.
“Dairy farmers in McMillan and Gippsland are facing a diabolical set of circumstances: Exceptionally bad milk prices, tough conditions and high input costs. They need help.”
This week, at last, they’ll get help in the form of an announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Joyce.
How well it is received when he visits Gippsland on Thursday is another matter.
If you are feeling depressed or have concerns about your wellbeing as a result of these issues, call the 24-hour counselling service Lifeline on 13 11 14.
For financial advice, call the Rural Financial Counselling Service Victoria on 5662 2566.