‘CONTROLLING what you can control’ was the theme of a panel discussion facilitated by dairy consultant Matt Harms at the South Gippsland Dairy Expo at Korumburra Showgrounds last Wednesday.
Expo attendees gathered to hear the panel of seven speakers, including local dairy farmers, a rural finance manager and a representative of South Gippsland Shire Council, discuss crises in the local dairy industry.
Giving the audience much food-for-thought and practical advice to take away, dairy farmers Warren and Kerrie Redmond of Inverloch, Andrew and Sue Lamers of Leongatha South, and Dean Turner of Yannathan shared stories of water shortages, farm accidents, and financial hardships.
Warren and Kerrie spent $180,000 to pump water from a disused public reservoir to fill their dams in 2015. They “had no choice,” said Warren. “It was that or sell the cows.”
Andrew got his leg caught in a machine in the middle of calving season, 2012, and was hospitalised for 10 weeks, leaving Sue struggling to manage the farm and finances.
Dean spoke about going into share farming in 2012, coinciding with a steep milk price drop, high grain prices and wet conditions. With a young family to support, and barely enough income to cover wages and bills, he said he frequently asked himself “why am I doing it?”.
As well as hard work and sacrifice, the farmers said it was support from other farmers, local government, banks, accountants, and their families and communities that helped them through highly stressful times.
Jamie Murphy, manager of Rabobank’s Leongatha branch, and South Gippsland Shire Council’s Grants and Emergency Management Coordinator Penni Ellicott explained the roles of banks and local governments in dairy industry crises.
Penni said council’s role is to bring agencies together to prepare and plan for emergencies and to provide relief and recovery assistance, advocating on behalf of community needs.
She said no matter what the crisis, council focuses on managing the consequences and impacts on the community.
Jamie acknowledged that some banks had been “capricious and pre-emptive,” in the past but said there are banks that genuinely want to work with farmers to see them through tough times. Most banks take a “sensible approach” and selling a farm is the “worst possible alternative,” he said.
The panel agreed that farmers need to anticipate problems and put systems and safeguards in place to mitigate crises.
A close relationship with a bank manager or financial advisory team was considered by all panellists to be an essential for dairy farmers.
Sue recommended reviewing farm insurance policies annually and stressed that farmers must pay themselves a proper wage to ensure an adequate income protection payout.
Although both had found it difficult to speak up in the past, Warren and Dean agreed it is vital that farmers reach out for support when struggling.
The discussion ended on a positive note, with all agreeing that farming communities are very supportive places in times of crisis.
“The dairy industry is good at crisis management,” said Jamie, citing its co-operative structure.
“People aren’t competing. They want to help each other and share knowledge and skills,” he said.
Warren summed it up, saying, “We’ve all been having a bit of a whinge up here but the fact is the dairy industry has been good to a lot of people and has been good to us.”
Coping with crises in the dairy industry