FOR nearly two decades Peter and Jane Middlebrook have called “Strathdrummond” on the outskirts of Finley home.
Primarily dairy farmers, the Middlebrooks also grow lucerne and corn, mainly to feed stock.
While no strangers to overcoming adversity on the land, the combination of the drought plus exorbitant water and feed prices are taking a toll.
Without water, farmers are struggling and the flow-on effects of that struggle are being felt throughout the tight-knit community.
With no water and dwindling finances, Mr Middlebrook said he knew of at least six farms that had been forced to go on the market in the last six months.
Mr Middlebrook said he also was not immune and was recently forced to borrow $500,000, with the bulk of that already spent on water for irrigation and food for stock.
“We have got some good farmers in the area that are having a real crack but they haven’t got any equity left and that’s the problem,” Mr Middlebrook said.
“The banks said no more.
“A lot of farmers had to sell their water to keep going and the bank gave me another $500,000 just to keep going.
“Selling your water is the beginning of the end I reckon.
“I know of at least six farmers around Finley that have been forced to sell in the last six months.
“And I’d say there will be many more if it doesn’t rain.”
The drought has seen wheat prices skyrocket to almost double the normal price.
“You’ve got to feed your cows,” he said.
“Normally you’d pay $200-250 a tonne for wheat, at the moment we are paying $450-$480 a tonne and I use 1200 tonne annually.
“I also bought $100,000 worth of hay.”
Lachlan Marshall, who is also a Finley dairy farmer, has spent $400,000 in the past three months buying water.
Mr Middlebrook has also spent a similar amount.
"We moved here 17 years ago because of water security and land prices," he said.
“Now they have moved the goal posts and to try to explain the water situation is very complicated.
“In the last 12 years, particularly since the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we've seen dwindling allocations and water prices jump astronomically.
“Then, water on the temporary market was $40 to $80 a megalitre and we saw water allocations of 80 per cent and above.
“We rely on irrigation water, I had none, so I had to start buying water.
“I’ve spent $320,000 on water and just spent a similar amount buying wheat just to try and get me through.
“At the moment we are losing $1000 a day which is not sustainable.
“I’m just hoping we can turn it around.”
The Middlebrook’s have six employees and 450 cows on their property, 400 of which are milked twice a day.
He recently switched to a new supplier, the Shepparton-based Freedom Foods which is looking to expand in the dairy market.
“I’m with Freedom Foods in Shepparton which is a good company to deal with,” he said
“They are a new company and are expanding and want 500 million litres of milk.”
Mr Middlebrook said it wasn’t only farmers who were struggling for survival.
Finley's population is about 2000 and agriculture is the main contributor to the economy. But both have taken a hit in the past decade.
“Finley is dead and the whole community is feeling the effects of the drought,” he said.
“It’s a horrible feeling when you can’t pay your bills and you have to ring your suppliers up and say I can give you a couple of grand that I owe you and hopefully I can give you some more next month.
“Local suppliers try to carry you the best they can but they are getting sick of it.
“I know one of the milking machine technicians who also delivers the chemicals to dairies is owed $750,000.
“There are dairy farmers who get monthly milk cheques for $250,000 and the money is already spent before they get it.
“If the dairy industry collapses locally, Finley won’t survive.
“A lot of employment relies on the dairy industry, the technicians, electricians, factory employees, suppliers of seed and fertiliser.”
Zero water allocations coupled with the exorbitant price of water has forced the Middlebrooks to change their choice of crops.
For the past couple of years Mr Middlebrook has chosen to grow corn, lucerne and cotton seed rather than rice.
“After the millennium drought we realised we weren’t going to be able to grow summer pasture,” he said.
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