Pressure on as north adapts to new normal

Northern Victoria's dairy farmers adapt to new normal

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There's nowhere in Victorian dairy doing it as tough as the north and Dhurringile dairy farmer Tony McCarthy says the region's farmers are adapting fast.

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ADAPTABLE: Tony McCarthy and daughter, Kate, are finding new ways to feed cows at their Dhurringile farm.

ADAPTABLE: Tony McCarthy and daughter, Kate, are finding new ways to feed cows at their Dhurringile farm.

There's nowhere in Victorian dairy doing it as tough as the north and Dhurringile dairy farmer Tony McCarthy says the region's farmers are adapting fast.

As the financial year draws to a close, only 49 per cent of northern Victorian dairy farmers surveyed by Dairy Australia (DA) expect to make a profit this year, the same percentage as last year.

Mr McCarthy understood why.

Irrigation traditionally grew grass that fed cows cheaply but that was no longer a model farmers could rely on, as demand from horticulture forced up water prices.

"So dairy farmers in Northern Victoria have become lot feeders, for want of better words, in that mixer wagons and other ways of feeding cows is becoming more and more popular, especially as farms are getting bigger," Mr McCarthy said said.

"We've got to be able to get feed in front of cattle efficiently and we can if grain prices are affordable.

"This past season, grain's gone from $400 a tonne to probably $340 a tonne at the moment, which is better.

"It squeezes our margins but it's a way of maintaining cow numbers and, I suppose, getting to the next season where, hopefully, water may be more available."

READ MORE: Dairy's very patchy rebound

Another statistic deep within DA's Situation & Outlook report illustrates the reality: the region's small farms are disappearing.

Three years ago, 32pc of northern Victorian herds produced less than a million litres of milk a year.

In 2018/19 that fell to 27pc and, this year, it's 19pc.

"Smaller farms are being gobbled up by cropping and by bigger farms looking for more support area to grow more homegrown feeds to insulate them from volatile markets," Mr McCarthy said.

"Farms are bigger, they're putting strategies in place for tough years and there's going to be casualties."

But optimism was growing thanks to good late summer and autumn rains, Mr McCarthy said.

"Farmer confidence has been lifted because a lot of the pastures went in without much irrigation, which has meant some farmers have carried over more water, and the fact that a lot of dryland blocks are high performing.

"It all points to more feed available for all stock, which takes the pressure off of hay markets."

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