Have dairy cows, will travel. That’s been the mantra for the Kath family who have slowly made it south from Toowoomba, gradually building up their dairy herd while sharefarming.
As just a glimmer of hope emerges for dairy farmers that milk and solid prices might rise, the Kaths have struck out a future for dairying in a non-traditional area of central-west NSW.
They took over a disused dairy farm about 10km east of Forbes two-and-a-half years ago and have turned it into a thriving dairy, producing up to 10,000 litres of milk a day from their strong herd of 420 dairy cows, made up of Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss and crossbreeds and not forgetting Grace, the 7-year-old Jersey cow, who has been with them on this amazing trek from Toowoomba to Narromine to Forbes.
The Kaths even had time to win Supreme Champion dairy female at the Sydney Royal this year with their Jersey cow Kathleigh Gun Grace.
As sharefarmers, Cassandra Kath says it is always hard work settling responsibilities, profits and upgrades with owners, but is happy she has a good relationship with her absentee owner at “Larweena Park” and recently had a video conference with the owner to sort out issues.
The Kaths recently won a $10,000 grant from the company they supply to, Lion Dairy and Foods (Dairy Farmers). Just 10 Australian dairy farms won a Lion Dairy Pride Landcare Grant. The grant is helping the Kaths install a glycol chiller so they can pre-cool their milk before it enters the larger vat, saving on energy costs. They will also start revegetating the 445 hectares of “Larweena Park”.
But Mrs Kath says there are many positives for dairying in the central-west at the moment, with access to good groundwater and the seasons favour good cropping in winter for ryegrass and winter cereals. “We have good soil types, clay loam over flat country and good access to land and water. We have the Lachlan River Scheme and we have quite good underground resources for water. When we were leaving Narromine we tossed up whether we would head to Victoria but decided the central-west had the best future for us. We really liked the central-west.” That was despite electricity costs and farm prices being higher than in Victoria.
Not far away from the Kaths is the huge Moxey farms dairy, which runs over 5000 dairy cows, one of the biggest dairy farms in the southern hemisphere, employing more than 200 people.
At the Kaths’, the workforce is just five with Cassandra running the dairy, herd and administration, and her husband Andrew, “Mr Fixit”, doing the farming and irrigating, with a part-time worker and a casual to help with the dairy and full-timer on cow feeding and paddock work. A number of dairy farms are dotted now in the central-west at Cowra, Dubbo, and Forbes.
She hopes to build up the herd to 600 cows. “There is a lot of potential to keep growing.” At some stage they will have to decide if they will sell their Toowoomba property, which they kept and perhaps invest in where they are. She sees some light around the corner for dairying. “The whisper is things might get better,” she said. At the moment they are getting about 50-52 cents a litre for milk. “We work hard to put a good product on the tables for all Australians and we just need a bit more incentive price wise to make sure we can keep investing, make our places ecologically sustainable and competitive. Dairy farmers love what they do.” Unlike many agricultural businesses they have constant cashflow, with milk sold everyday.
The Kaths’ confidence in their industry comes as many processors prepare to finalise milk contracts by July. Already there is some positive news with Bulla saying it will pay $6 a kilo for solids. The impact of a tight market in New Zealand, the culling of 150,000 dairy cows there, the drought in many areas of eastern Australia, will also put pressure on supplies. There may be some positives with Saputo’s purchase of Murray-Goulburn.
Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said many dairyfarmers were struggling with drought and low milk prices and there were huge issues to overcome, including getting a mandatory national dairy code in place, and providing better contracts between suppliers and processors. Dairyfarmers were still leaving the industry by the day. In NSW alone there were 698 dairyfarmers in 2016-2017. Mr Morgan expected that to fall dramatically to about 600 in 2017-2018.