ONE hundred thousand dollars – that is the cost for fifth-generation dairy farmer Jamie Marquet to stay afloat for another month.
With his usually lush paddocks dry and dusty it is the only choice he has to keep his business afloat.
The story is all too similar at the handful of other dairy farms in the Hunter.
It raises serious questions about the future of the dairy industry in the region.
“We haven’t got any feed, we are spending $65,000 a month on hay alone, $40,000 on grain and we’re also buying liquid molasses,” he said.
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“I didn’t think it would come to this point. It’s getting harder and we are running tight for water.”
On top of that, he only receives 49 cents a litre for his milk and he needs at least 65 cents to break even in this climate.
If the Wallarobba farmer stops pouring feed into his 260-strong milking herd they won’t produce any milk. Holstein Friesians are like racehorses. They need to be fed the very best of everything to make milk and each one drinks 200 litres of water a day.
He also has to keep his 290 dry cows, heifers and calves fed as they hold his future income. With the high price of dairy cows – and genetics playing a key role in milk production – he cannot afford to sell them and buy others later.
One hundred millimetres of rain fell in late October and early November, which was promising, but then the heat kicked in and fried everything. He spent $20,000 planting a crop of sorghum but it was too dry for it to thrive.
“It is in four different stages of coming up and the little bit of it that was fit to graze is toxic because it was starved of moisture, so we got bugger all out of it which was a shame,” Mr Marquet said.
Ironically, in the past three years he has battled two floods.
It’s the true irony of nature. Now he is praying for decent rain, but not that much.
Mr Marquet, his wife Gaylene and 17-year-old son Cameron, rely on a creek that runs through the farm and it is dangerously low. They pump out of various creek holes to give the cattle a drink, and when that dries up they don’t know what they will do.
“It’s not just us, all of the dairy farmers are facing similar problems, and the water is the key thing, the water is going to get us if this keeps going on,” he said.
The Marquets have access to town water, but only through a 20ml pipe that is shared with two other nearby properties.
If they are forced to rely on the pipe there will not be enough pressure for all of them. He has approval to put two bores down but he isn’t allowed to irrigate out of them.