Barren future for drought-ridden farmers

DESPITE Des Taylor’s family having lived on his Millthorpe Road property for some 150 years, he finds it hard to see a future there for his children as he battles to feed and water his 1600 sheep and 160 cattle during one of the country’s worst droughts.

The drought has taken its toll on Mr Taylor and his wife Mary who somehow still feel optimistic enough to hope for rainfall, no matter what recent experience and weather forecasts tell them.

“If we weren’t optimistic we wouldn’t do what we do,” Mr Taylor said.

“We’re lucky enough to have quite good bore water but you can’t tell how much of it you’ve got until it stops pumping, then you’re in dire straights.”

While the Taylors have around 20 dams on their large property at Shadforth, only a handful have any water in them.

“Normally at this time of year springs open up but we don’t know what’s going to happen this year. If it stays dry then everything’s going to die,” Mr Taylor said.

“We need rain while the ground’s still warm, we need it by mid-February ideally, but if we get good rain in March it won’t be too bad.”

Mr Taylor said he needed to be able to plant feed for the winter months before the soil turned hard and cold.

“This side of the mountain things turn so cold, so quickly,” he said.

“At the moment stock prices are still holding up but in another month or six weeks stock prices will probably drop and everyone will take their stock to market and it’ll be flooded.”

Mr Taylor dreads the thought that he’ll be forced to shoot stock as he did in 1982.

“It’s soul-destroying but you do what you’ve got to do,” he said.

“Sometimes de-stocking is the only thing you can do ... everything’s a trade-off.”

“Everyone asks us why we don’t just sell up and leave but there’s lots of reasons why people do this ... history is a big part of why I’m here. It’s what I’ve always done, it becomes who you are"

With so much dependent on getting a decent rainfall, Mr Taylor admits he’s become “less confident about [weather] predictions”.

“I think they’re hedging their bets,” he said.

While once farmers used to talk about traditional weather patterns, now there was no such thing with many contemplating the impact of climate change, he said.

Like many who live on the land, Mr Taylor takes a pragmatic approach to his future.

“Everyone’s just carrying on with pills and ointment, we’ve just got to keep going and hope eventually it’s OK,” he said.

During tough times many growers are forced to seek a second source of income and often their partner has a job in town.

“There are very few people who can maintain their property and family just by farming,” Mr Taylor said.

Many property owners are selling off portions of their land to survive.

“It’s being done out of necessity, people cash in some land to try and keep going,” he said.

“Everyone asks us why we don’t just sell up and leave but there’s lots of reasons why people do this.

“History is a big part of why I’m here. It’s what I’ve always done, it becomes who you are.”

Yet despite his connection to the land his family’s owned since 1856, Mr Taylor doesn’t want his children to become farmers.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“The political will has turned against agriculture and producers keep getting hammered.”

Mr Taylor wants more emphasis on the importance of buying Australian products.

“Why can’t we have one simple logo that says produced in Australia?” he said.

“We need the money to stay in Australia.

“We need something to be done at the top level and we need them [government] to stop bending over backwards for the mining sector.” 

tracey.prisk@fairfaxmedia.com.au

OUR SAY: AUSTRALIAN MADE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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