DAIRY cow numbers across Australia are dropping as rising feed prices and poor pasture production put the pressure on farm budgets.
SA Dairyfarmers’ Association chief executive officer Andrew Curtis said dairyfarmers, particularly in the “critical” central region of SA, were looking to cull surplus cow numbers, creating concerns about the impact on production for the year.
“To buy in feed has been exorbitant and people have had to make decisions of economies,” he said.
“We’re only a third into the production year but the expectation is, with the season we’ve had, it will take a hit.”
Mr Curtis said the Adelaide Hills and Barossa regions had poor pastures and, while the Lower South East was still fine, not too much further north of Penola, feed supplies were impacted.
“Even though the majority of dairy cows are in higher rainfall areas, it has been a horrible spring,” he said.
“Those who irrigate are looking to irrigation already, when they wouldn’t normally start until November.
“The compounding issue is the cost of feed and impact of freight subsidies in Qld and NSW on the cost of feed in SA,” he said. “Some of the frosted wheat crops are being cut into hay and sold straight into NSW that would otherwise be available here.”
In Vic, Dairy Livestock Services auctioneer Brian Leslie has seen an influx of dairy cattle being put on the market in recent weeks.
“There’s not really a drought in Western Vic and in some parts of Gippsland, but they’ve been forced to pay the same high prices for grain, hay and water,” he said.
“While some dairy farmers might have grass, they are reliant on grain inputs too, so their cost of production is getting very high.”
Charles L King & Co auctioneer Brock Fletcher, Echuca, Vic, said he had one client selling her entire herd due to the rising costs.
He estimated he had seen an increase of dairy cattle on the market since August.
“It started with older cows, with people cutting back, but no one wants to buy the older cows,” he said. “It’s only the younger cows that are selling, so we began to see entire herds being sold.”
He said while the conditions were not unprecedented, they had come on quicker than previous droughts.
“We came off a good year last year, so there was a lot of fodder, but I think farmers underestimated how much fodder was going north, and then all of a sudden the hay and grain prices went up dramatically,” he said.
Mr Leslie said the mass dairy herd culling was going to have a big impact on the number of cows milked in the future.
“When the drought breaks, dairy farmers will only have their performing cows, and that will put a real test on numbers, which will lead to a milk shortage and with that, a price increase,” he said.
Further north the Shoalhaven Flats near Nowra, NSW has lost an estimated 2000 cows in recent months.
Sixth generation dairyfarmer Tracey Russell, Brundee, NSW, has let her low milkers go, as their milk does not cover feed costs.
One of the cows to go on the next truck is family favourite, Milton Show champion Boscawen Roy Beauty.
“It breaks our heart to do this, but we have no choice, there are no margins left,” she said. “It’s not good for our mental health as well, we run everything to the bone and we can’t afford for anything to go wrong.
“My advice to people is that they better get used to drinking long-life or powdered milk because if this keeps up there’ll be no fresh milk left in Australia.”