Jason Schilg counts himself pretty lucky.
The Walla farmer is almost embarrassed to tell me he’s getting enough rain to keep things ticking along.
“Things are looking good for the amount of rain we’ve had,” Mr Schilg says.
The 45-year-old, who has 2000 hectares at the family’s Hill and Dale property and on lease, says while you never say no to rain, the screws haven’t tightened … yet.
“We need more rain by the end of spring or things will dry up pretty quickly,” he says.
“I won’t start to stress until the end of August.”
On Friday 100 per cent of NSW was effectively drought declared; the Department of Primary Industries summary indicated 44.9 per cent of the state is drought-affected, 32.3 per cent is in drought and 22.8 per cent in intense drought.
Mr Schilg has 1700 hectares of canola and wheat in, and runs 200 breeders and calves.
Last week he sold off yearling cattle earlier than normal to keep cows and calves going.
“If dry conditions continue there’ll be a rush to sell off stock; farmers will offload because the price of hay and grain is so dear,” he explains.
“Once the weather breaks, beef (prices) will go through the roof because there’ll be nothing left.”
If anyone around here wants to whinge they need to go for a drive up north for a few hours and have a good look around.Walla farmer Jason Schilg
Mr Schilg still has 500 bales of hay and 600 bales of silage stockpiled – for a “rainy day”.
“We should be right until autumn next year,” he says.
But he’s well aware others are not in such a fortunate position.
“A lot of people haven’t got any hay and they are starting to buy it,” Mr Schilg says.
“It’s hard to buy hay locally and most producers have sold out.
“If you can get hay, you’ve got to pay a lot of money for it and justify what you’re keeping.”
Hay producer Robert Forrest, of Corowa, says his sheds are as bare as the country’s drought-stricken paddocks.
Mr Forrest runs 180 to 200 head of cattle on 250 hectares and has about 40 hectares of irrigated lucerne.
He’s run out of small squares and only has enough big bales left to feed his own stock.
He normally supplies hay to produce stores, dairy farmers and feedlots and most years has some left over.
Not this year.
It’s a “big stretch” before he can cut hay again in November.
“Everyone’s hay shed is empty,” he says.
“There’s been no grass growth and there is a huge amount of hay that’s been fed out because the feed is not there.”
Mr Forrest says there is very little moisture in the ground.
“If we get decent rain, we’ll get things growing,” he says cheerfully.
“With a few good rains, away you go. If not, we’re in all sorts of trouble.”
In the meantime, Mr Forrest watches the weather constantly and waits …
Agribusiness expert David Farley believes there’s no time to lose.
And he’s not just talking about the vital resource that falls from the sky.
The Narrandera-based consultant has flagged a “major collapse to our agriculture” on the back of one of the most crippling droughts in the country’s history.
And he warns all Australians the effects will be felt far beyond the farm gate.
Mr Farley is predicting a huge hike in food prices between now and December with red meat up by 25 per cent, white meat up by 16-18 per cent and bakery products rising 12-16 per cent.
This week Mr Farley heard first-hand of the immediate crisis facing the milk industry.
Hay harvested and set aside for dairy production is heading north.
“If we don’t get a spring break, it will be impossible to keep hay up to the dairy industry,” he says.
Mr Farley says the current crisis requires innovative, pro-active policy development to meet the challenges in front of us.
And while he welcomes Monday’s announcement the NSW Government has doubled its Emergency Drought Relief Package by $500 million, Mr Farley laments another “reactionary” response by decision-makers.
Politicians were under pressure to act as farmers face one of the driest winters on record.
“We have already committed $584 million in drought support, most of which is focused on preparation for drought conditions,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian states.
“However, conditions are now so dire that further support is needed to address the more immediate needs for farmers and their communities until the drought breaks.”
The major feature of the package is about $190 million for Drought Transport Subsidies.
The subsidies will cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of transporting fodder, water for stock and livestock to pasture, slaughter or sale.
Relief measures will be back-dated so farmers can access additional subsidies for freight expenses incurred since January 1.
Mr Farley fears this may be too little, too late as energy, water, and food prices soar.
“Where have three years of agricultural policies got us?” he asks.
“We haven’t used much fuel getting to where we are.”
With a federal election looming before June 2019, Mr Farley reckons the industry will start to see policy redevelopment as well as “a powerful amount of pork-barrelling”.
“But it’s going to take a long time to filter through to Canberra,” he says.
In the meantime in households across Australia, discretionary spending will take a nose-dive.
On-farm the flow-on effects are about more than money for movies, clothing and entertainment.
Mr Schilg usually heads north each year for contract harvesting.
But there’s no crop; the farmer he normally works for has only had 5mm of rain since June.
“Up north they didn’t get a harvest last year and they won’t get one this year,” Mr Schilg says.
“They’ve been feeding stock for two years; resilience would be wearing thin.”
Like most farmers, Mr Schilg knows all too well his family’s livelihood is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“Still, we are very fortunate where we are to have what we’ve got,” he says.
“If anyone around here wants to whinge they need to go for a drive up north for a few hours and have a good look around.”
- As of Friday 100 per cent of NSW was effectively drought declared; the Department of Primary Industries summary indicates 44.9 per cent of the state is drought-affected, 32.3 per cent is in drought and 22.8 per cent in intense drought.
Agribusiness experts warn consumers are set to feel the crippling cost at the cash register with red meat prices expected to jump as much as 25 per cent between now and December while white meat and bakery products could be 16-18 per cent more expensive.
- The flow-on effects of one of the driest winters on record are being immediately felt in the milk industry as hay set aside for dairy production is trucked north.
- Farmers and hay producers say sheds are empty and grass is thin on the ground to feed hungry stock.
- Narrandera-based agri-consultant David Farley warns small towns will be under severe economic pressure with regional industries facing an increase in unemployment and under-employment: “If you haven’t got the crops to harvest and the animals to tend to, the demand in service industries won’t be there for fertilisers, spare parts and fuel.”
While this week’s announcement the state government had doubled its drought package by $500m, commentators fear “reactionary” responses to this latest crisis won’t help Australian agriculture meet future challenges.