Deputy PM has no fix for ‘hurting’ dairy farmers

By Sophie Baldwin

DEPUTY Prime Minister Michael McCormack was in Cohuna yesterday to see first-hand the crisis unfolding in the community.

Mr McCormack spent time at the dairy farm of Ian and Amy Mathers — second generation farmers who are winding up their dairy operation over the next few months, followed by a lunch at Bower Tavern where he mixed with farming sector representatives, business owners and the community.

Mr Mathers’ dairy business generated $1.5 million annually – 90 per cent of which returned to the local community.

‘‘I am just one of 23 other farmers who have exited before me. It’s feasible to think $100 million will exit this shire before this ends,’’ Mr Mathers said.

Mr McCormack acknowledged the northern Victorian dairy industry was hurting.

He said the government had provided $7 billion in drought assistance and would continue to support the community.

The assurances did little to reassure the crowd.

Dairy farmer Stephen Brown said he danced the dance but what else would you expect.

‘‘There was no joy in the room today and they all live in la la land,” Mr Brown said.

Dairy farmer Harry Rowlands said his take home message from the day was to go home and get his affairs in order.

Cohuna’s David Elliot said it was disheartening to see what was happening to the community.

‘‘I hate to see what is going on. The hardship and sheer frustration people are going through is terrible – they have just had enough,’’ Mr Elliot said.

‘‘I hope something can be done but the reality is it’s so far out of control I don’t think they know how to stop it.’’

Event organiser and industry lobbyist Andrew Gibbs from Primary Partners organised the visit because he felt the Gannawarra Shire was doing nothing.

He acknowledged it was good Mr McCormack spent five hours in the town.

‘‘The decision-makers need to know what is going on. From October to March, 15,300 milking cows have left the shire (they would have produced enough milk for 396,000 homes for a year), no-one is being held to account and if we continue to do nothing, nothing will get done,’’ Mr Gibbs said.

Continuing dry conditions and soaring temporary water prices are placing increased pressure on the farming community.

Torrumbarry dairy farmers Sally Mitchell and Barry Ashwin are another casualty.

They sold their 550 cow milking herd yesterday.

It was going to cost them $300,000 to get their herd through until spring.

Mrs Mitchell, who has been milking cows for 30 years, said it was an extremely sad day.

“We have lost confidence in the irrigation system. We are tired and drained at the moment but I am sure we will bounce back,” Mrs Mitchell said.

Mr McCormack also announced the South West Loddon Pipeline would be connected to several Coliban water treatment plants, ensuring more than 3400 water users in Victoria’s north-west will receive an improved and more reliable drinking water supply with reduced organics and salinity levels.