Water

Zero allocation affects NSW dairy farmers

By Sophie Baldwin

The Searle family can’t do too much more to streamline their dairy operation without access to affordable irrigation water.

The family, parents Geoff and Tracey, along with sons Michael 29, and Matt 35, who farm just outside Barham in NSW, are on their second year of zero allocation and it is decimating a once thriving business.

“We have a pretty good dairy set up and we are just watching it dwindle away to dust,” Matt said.

He said the family had tried to make things work with minimal water and for the past two years a zero allocation.

“Everything we are feeding the herd has been bought in and we can no longer be self-sufficient for feed, which was a key part of our original business management,” Matt said.

Matt said with irrigation the family had been able to grow a large percentage of their own fodder and establish a sustainable feed rotation, which consisted of grazing lucerne during summer and feeding conserved home-grown corn silage over winter.

“We were able to cut corn for silage in 2019, but we have none this year,” he said.

“Our lucerne is hanging in there, but it wouldn’t have been irrigated for at least 12 months and everywhere we look there are dry and dusty paddocks.”

Matt said government and politicians, poor water policy and the effects of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were simply killing the area.

“It is just so frustrating, and the problem is a lot bigger than just needing rain, we need policy change and we need it now,” he said.

“We can’t produce dairy unless we have some sort of water allocation, we continually point out why it’s not working, and it continually falls on deaf ears.

“We can’t adapt without water and we are told to be more efficient, but we can’t do that with both hands tied behind our back.”

Matt said while milk price was good, it was certainly not good enough to make up for the high cost of inputs.

“Every day we are feeding cows with fodder we could have grown ourselves, instead we have to pay for it,” he said.

“There is dust continually blowing in our faces and it can be a long day driving around a desolate farm stuck inside your own head.”

Matt said it was also depressing to look around the farm and see the little pockets of wetlands dried up and gone.

“We don’t have any of the ducks and birdlife we used to have,” he said.

“We got a load of canola meal delivered the other day and I couldn’t believe all the bees buzzing around the truck - there is no longer flowering lucerne for them on the farm.”