Farmer confidence up

By Alana Christensen

Anticipation of a decent autumn break to turn around the season has driven up Victorian farmer confidence from near-decade lows, the latest Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey has found.

The first quarterly survey for 2019 found nearly a quarter of Victorian farmers surveyed were hopeful that conditions would improve this year.

Rabobank regional manager for southern Victoria and Tasmania Hamish McAlpin said this year’s autumn break was eagerly anticipated after a hot and dry summer — particularly in the north of the state, where it remained extremely dry and the cost of water had escalated.

‘‘At this stage of the year, the season is all ahead of us with the average autumn break around late April,’’ he said.

‘‘If we get a decent break, it will see the crop planted into moisture and catchment areas start to wet up to take best advantage of winter and spring inflows to storages, and to provide some much-needed confidence for irrigators in the year ahead.

‘‘That said, it will take time to recover from the dry. The harvest of the next winter crop is some way off to take pressure off feed prices, and irrigation storages are so low.’’

Sentiment was lowest in the dairy sector, with 49 per cent of the state’s dairy farmers expecting conditions to worsen with concerns high around drought and rising input costs.

‘‘It is particularly challenging for dairy farmers on irrigation, with temporary water prices in the southern Murray-Darling Basin now triple what they were a year ago,’’ Mr McAlpin said.

‘‘Couple that with the price of fodder and the cost pressures are significant.’’

The latest survey, completed in February, found Victorian farmer confidence had improved markedly to around the levels reported a year ago.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s farmers now expect conditions to improve, while the percentage expecting conditions to worsen has nearly halved to 28 per cent, from 50 per cent previously.

That said, 44 per cent of those surveyed were expecting little change in agricultural economic conditions from last year, which was challenging for those in the Goulburn Murray region.

Drought continued to suppress confidence in the sector, with 79 per cent of farmers with a pessimistic outlook citing dry weather as their primary concern.

By surveyed commodity, confidence lifted across all sectors, with grains posting the biggest upswing with 47 per cent of grain growers now anticipating conditions to improve during coming months.

‘‘With last year’s below-average harvest behind us, this improvement in sentiment reflects the hope that this year’s winter crop will be well up on last year’s,’’ Mr McAlpin said.

Confidence also picked up strongly in the sheep sector, with 20 per cent expecting conditions in the agricultural economy to improve and 55 per cent reporting a stable outlook.

In beef, sentiment also posted a lift, but remained subdued — with 32 per cent taking a pessimistic outlook on the year ahead.