SMILING THROUGH DROUGHT: Dairy farmer Jade Wenham on his father's property at Cooranga North.
SMILING THROUGH DROUGHT: Dairy farmer Jade Wenham on his father's property at Cooranga North. Sam Flanagan

Region not immune to dairy crisis

THE milk crisis crippling the dairy industry is taking a toll on a family property north of Dalby.

Jade Wenham's grandfather bought 242ha of land in Cooranga North in the early 1950s, and since that time the property has slowly expanded to more than 1200ha, which runs both dairy and beef cattle.

Mr Wenham's father owns the farm nowadays, but the 32-year-old helps him work the property.

He said it had been a tough couple of years.

"Currently, without counting fuel and electricity, it's costing more to feed our dairy cattle than what we're getting paid for the milk they produce,” Mr Wenham said.

"Farmers can only keep doing that for so long before something snaps.”

Mr Wenham said the combination of a prolonged drought and low milk prices had been a cruel one-two blow.

"The drought has impacted us pretty hard this year especially.

"For the past couple of years we've been unable to grow any surplus feed to store, which means we've had to purchase feed at the inflated prices.”

Mr Wenham said their property, Fairview, received 100mm of rain in the recent downpours, but cracks had already formed all over the ground again.

As for the price of milk, Mr Wenham said he found it hard to solely blame the supermarket giants.

He said they were running a business and never going to pay more to suppliers than they had to.

Mr Wenham said the point was, why can't they be made to pay more, as consumers have to pay the asking price when they want to buy anything?

"I don't understand whether it's the $1-a-litre issue, someone in the middle who is corrupt, or if the problem is at the top where decisions are being made.

"The farmers can't be any more efficient ... so it should be industry leaders who are held accountable to get us a better deal.”

Mr Wenham said the family had ceased production in the past as a result of bad prices and bad weather and were at the stage now when they needed to consider their options.

"Over the years, Dad's gotten on pretty well with the dairy, but it's definitely had its ups and downs,” he said.

"In mid-2000, deregulation brought the price down, it halved the farm gate price to about 25 cents a litre ... It took years to build back up.

"It's a shame there wasn't a little more consistent return because there would be opportunities to employ more staff and attract more people to the industry, but it seems to be that there is never quite enough.

"If the milk price was increased a decent amount to give dairy farmers a little breathing space, it would make a world of difference.

"Don't get me wrong, when the season is good, things aren't too bad, but those times are too far in between and the prices need to be adjusted to allow for that.

"It seems that over the last four to five years the milk price has struck a stale spot and isn't keeping in front of the cost of production.

"Instead it's getting further and further behind.”

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