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Dairy farming in Australia the old way, and how it compares with New Zealand

Recently I was travelling in Australia, and spent some time with a farmer out of Ballarat.

Ballarat is approximately 1½ hours north of Melbourne, in what would be classified as higher country, which generally is cooler over the summer than much of Australia.

The average rainfall is 25 – 30 inches, and there can be snow in the winter.

Over the fence, I was able to glean the following information:
  • Production is around 350 kg per cow, mainly with all-grass and some gain feeding.
  • The season runs from the end of July until the end of May as in New Zealand.
  • Supplements fed to their cows were 9 kg's of wheat, plus a mixture of chocolate. The chocolate scraps were obtained from Mars Bars. They also received some hay, silage, a little dry grass and water.
  • The young stock are drenched twice a year, and some farmers do it monthly. There was much discussion around worm resistance with drenching. It appears that Australia has a big problem with resistance to worm drenches, so much so, that farmers are actually losing sheep from worm infestation, even though they have been drenched.
  • Fertilizer requirements: Potash is low, and they apply 300 kg's per hectare of potassic Fertilizer.
  • Many of the older farmers do not want more debt, or more work. They say that they are working harder now than they were, just to stay still. The average age of the farmers in that locality was 55 – 58, which is not dissimilar to New Zealand. The younger farmers do not want to work as long, or such hard hours, and tend to drift off into other occupations.
  • Labour is their biggest problem, and farm labour does not seem to last long in Australia.
  • If you can picture milking the cows in the summer, with temperatures up to 42º, with flies everywhere, you can understand why not.
  • These people have built their lifestyle around farming. They will milk in the morning, go out for the day, and then milk again that night. His wife had been in the same job for 40 years, and had just resigned, and now helps on the farm.
  • They under sow their pastures regularly. They spray them out to grow rape, and then under sow back into pasture late March, early April.
  • Interest rates are 6.5%, and if debt is too high, they cannot make any headway.
  • Fuel has had a big effect. Diesel over in Australia is $1.20 - $1.30 per litre, which has a big impact on on-farm costs. He felt that many of the on-farm costs remained relatively stable, despite the fuel prices hiking.
  • He identified that you cannot feed two families out of 60,000 kg/ms.
  • Land use. There are considerable areas of land going back into gum trees. These gum trees are harvested for paper after 15 years, and it is a different trend to New Zealand where we are now taking out the pine trees to go back into dairying in the Central Plateau area.
  • Milk is going by train to Darwin to meet the liquid milk demand up there.
  • We talked about inter-generational planning, and it appears that Wills are still used in a big way, and they are hoping that they will continue that way.
  • There has been 100 years of succession in their family, and they hope that the land will go another generation yet.
So in summary, dairy farming in Australia has a similar payout, conditions are harder, the climate is more varied, and they run a very simple low cost operation. It is quite surprising to see how similar the issues were to New Zealand, and they seem relatively happy with their lot, although not wanting to change. Effluent disposal and health and safety issues are emerging in Australia, and are likely to get bigger as they have in New Zealand. While there are large similarities to dairying in Australia, Australian farmers appear to be largely behind their counterparts in New Zealand.


 

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