GOVERNMENT policy, poor commodity prices and tawdry farm politics have farmer Andrew Schult at his wits’ end.
After buying a dairy farm at Katunga last November, Mr Schult joined the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria three months ago and charged off to the farm body’s recent annual conference in Melbourne to make a statement on the stress in farming.
He moved a motion at the conference to set a fair price for milk with dairy farmers to collectively boycott the market if processors did not come to the party.
The motion was defeated but only after vigorous debate and a good deal of vocal support from some fellow dairy farmers also under stress.
Mr Schult drove back to Katunga disappointed.
No one came up with a better idea and he believes farm bodies are toothless tigers.
With wife Katherine, sons Stewart and Carlo, and Stewart’s wife Sarah, Mr Schult runs 2800 hectares of farmland at Narrandera, Holbrook and Tullakool in NSW and Katunga in Victoria, covering three industries — beef, dairy and pigs.
Farming is their life. Mr Schult, 63, left school at age 16, and has never had a holiday.
The Schult family runs 500 Angus breeders, 1000 beef steers, 500 milking cows and 750 breeding sows.
The family also produces irrigated and dryland fodder and cereal crops.
The dairy farm at Tullakool is lying idle because it has a zero irrigation water allocation.
It was once part of the expansive Tulla Station in the Wakool Irrigation District.
“All this irrigation was initiated by the government to feed the nation,” he said.
“They got farmers to invest in farm infrastructure but now they have abandoned us,” he said, in reference to water buybacks.
Mr Schult shut down the dairy operation at Tullakool, but instead of selling his stock and walking away from the industry, he bought another farm at Katunga to run their milkers.
But high water and feed prices hit there as well, making it impossible to turn a profit.
While diversification has been a good strategy to ride out the bumps in agriculture, it has not worked out during this past year. All three industries are going through a rough trot.
“Because of government policy and the extent of the drought, our three commodities are getting fairly well hammered,” Mr Schult said.
“We have enough irrigation water for 100 per cent allocation but it is all going down the river to South Australia. The government has dewatered the north.”
The flow-on effects to pasture production has hit hard.
“I spent an extra $1 million feeding our beef cattle this year,” Mr Schult said. “Our debt is at levels most people could not comprehend.”
Mr Schult wants a change in government policy.