Dairy dream falls to pieces

By Sophie Baldwin

Miriam Crane is desperate her dairying dream is being torn to shreds in front of her and it is breaking her heart.

A 33-year-old passionate about agriculture is vital to the industry’s long-term future, but many are simply becoming collateral damage as protracted dry conditions, soaring water prices and a milk price way below the cost of production take their toll.

The dairy farm she bought at Cohuna three years ago has to be sold, the majority of her cows have been sold and she is frantic to hang onto the nucleus of her herd, the Jersey stock she can trace back to the 1920s.

She has been able to park the Jerseys in southern Victoria for 12 months, which buys her some time, but she remains worried about her future and the future of her much-loved stock.

‘‘I bought a cheap farm with a great dairy. I had nearly 300 head including young stock and I could just see so much potential, and I was never afraid to work hard,” Ms Crane said.

But that is now gone.

The unrelenting water crisis, input costs and a milk price far from the cost of production has forced her out.

And not only did she have to sell the majority of her stock, she had to sell them for a fraction of their value.

‘‘I only got $800 for my cows and these were 10000-litre cows. Half were calved and ready to go and they were all drenched, vaccinated, dry-cowed and teat-sealed.

‘‘It was heartbreaking enough to sell them, let alone get a fraction of their value.”

This season temporary water had risen from $200/Ml to $500/Ml, hay from $200 to $500 and grain $370 to $520.

‘‘I was losing money every single day to keep the cows fed. Nothing added up and I couldn’t keep cutting my throat just to hang in there,’’ she said.

‘‘I hope the decisions I have made will allow me to get back in 12 months’ time, but I don’t ever want to own my own dairy farm again, it is just way too hard.’’

Ms Crane said it was her love and passion for cows that kept her in the industry despite its downfalls.

Down the track she is hoping to get a job or management position, which will allow her to bring her own cows, in the meantime she needs to find a job.

Ms Crane said Cohuna used to be an oasis.

‘‘It used to green, there were dairy farms everywhere, but now it is empty and abandoned and it’s heartbreaking,’’ she said.

‘‘The weed burden is shocking and it is awful to see how bad things have gotten around here.

‘‘Water is the biggest issue and it has had a tsunami effect. Our river systems are in poor health and if they don’t do something soon there will be no farmers left.”

Ms Crane believes the industry should be re-regulated.

‘‘I know farmers voted for deregulation back in 2000, but the industry is constantly changing and I don’t think we should be stuck in a decision that was made years ago.’’