DAMIEN Murphy wasn’t to know, when he was away overseas for 16 weeks in 2012, on a Nuffield Scholarship, that he’d need to draw on everything he learned over there, plus all of his own experience from the family farm at Dumbalk North, to play a key role in helping his fellow dairy farmers cope with one of their biggest challenges in history.
And it’s not all theoretical.
Damien and his family are long-time Murray Goulburn suppliers and they’ve opted to stay with Murray Goulburn, so they’ve experienced all the issues facing the industry at the moment.
He’s been appointed as chair of the Gippsland Dairy Industry Leadership Group; one of three such area groups around the state, along with others in the south-west and north, to advise the Victorian Dairy Industry Taskforce and the government about how things are going.
“On the Gippsland group we have representatives from Agriculture Victoria, Gippsdairy, the shires South Gippsland, Bass Coast, Baw Baw and Wellington, the processors (MG, Burra and Fonterra), Centrelink and the new Rural Financial Counselling EO Kylie Holmes,” said Damien.
“We’ve had five meetings so far, spread around the place at Leongatha, Ellinbank, Maffra, Yarram and Wonthaggi yesterday; so that we’re not just focusing on one area.
“Our role is to coordinate the response, working closely with the UDV, Gippsdairy and the other agencies to identify and highlight any gaps with support services to dairy farmers and their families; to monitor the situation to ensure that where support is needed it is available in a timely manner.”
An example of that is ensuring that dairy farmers can get ready access to the financial support available through Centrelink, including the Farm Househould Allowance.
“We’re involving other dairy farmers from each area, looking at what’s working and what’s not. So far we’ve been lucky with the season, it’s been fantastic, and if that continues, it’s going to be a big help. A lot of people were really badly affected by last year and how much feed and water they had to bring in.”
Financial support, emotional health and wellbeing, government support through Centrelink, taking stock of your situation; they’re all things that have to be worked through.
“Anecdotally people are getting on with it at the moment. Grain prices have come down, urea costs are down too and the grass is growing plus there’s been some global improvement and we had a step-up from Murray Goulburn so there have been some positives.”
But there has been some level of departure and significant milk movement, according to Damien, and considerable emotional and financial impact as well.
“People are still working through, what is it, the Kübler-Ross model, the five stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and we’re probably going to have a pressure point around Christmas time when the immediate things have been attended to.
“It’s going to be tough but some farmers will be budgeting for a profit, even in this situation. It all depends on the season from here and the price.
“A perfect season will certainly help more people get to that breakeven point.
“We haven’t seen a lot of departures and there’s been no impact on land prices, we’ve just got to make sure we’re responding to the immediate issues and that people are getting the help they need in a timely manner.”
And getting together for something like the South Gippsland Dairy Expo next week can help.
On a fine spring day, even dairy farming looks better