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Australia’s dairy farmers struggle amid soaring input costs

CANBERRA: The Australian dairy farmers are struggling to stay afloat amid rising feed and water costs, inconsistent milk prices and dry conditions.

Farmer Jason Smith is used to the early starts and late nights, the freezing fingers, sick animals and the constant threat of being covered in cow dung.

But nothing prepared him for just how tough it was to stay afloat in the embattled dairy industry.

“4:00am rolls around very quickly when you finish at 10:00pm, and you think to yourself, ‘I don’t want to get up because I know I am just going to lose more money today,'” Mr Smith said.

The former Young Farmer of the Year from Victoria’s south-west used to encourage kids to consider a career in dairy, but he does not do that any more.

“Sure there’s good times … but the tough times are bloody tough,” he said.

“And it’s very hard to tell a 14-year-old kid, look them in the eye and say, ‘Don’t have your office job, come and deal with this rubbish’.”

Even those who enjoy good rainfall and green pastures — like Mr Smith — feel the pressure of the drought elsewhere because it pushes up feed costs everywhere.

He has already had to cull cows this season and says if things do not improve, he will have to cut his herd even further.

“Sometimes when a bill must be paid, you have to close your eyes and put some animals on the truck that you didn’t want to put on the truck,” he added.

“We have an attachment to these animals, we bring them up for generations and every cull decision is a hard one.

In 1980 there were 22,000 dairy farms in Australia. Now there are fewer than 6,000.

Australia’s share in the global dairy trade has fallen from 16 per cent in the 1990s to just 6 per cent last year, and the country’s milk production is forecast to fall up to 9 per cent this year.

That drop in milk production has been blamed for the closure of dairy giant Fonterra’s factory at Dennington in south-west Victoria.