A COW OF A YEAR: Some relief but drought still bites – Northern Star

EVERY morning dairy farmer Fleur Tonge uses a drone to check the irrigators at her 100ha property at Dobies Bight, west of Casino.

For 37 years, with husband Sam Tongue, she has been milking 250 cows.

Never has it been so tough.

"Our costs have gone up so much we're farming ourselves out of existence,” Ms Tonge said.

"Due to the long drought across the state, hay and grain prices have skyrocketed.”

Amid the grim outlook, good news came before Christmas with a letter from Woolworths informing the farmers, their drought relief milk payments would continue until June next year.

"Woollies started drought milk in October and we received our first payment in October,” Ms Tonge said.

Dairy farmers are paid a minimum $1000 with each cheque plus extra depending on milk production as part of the Woolworths and Parmalat scheme.

"They are regulating a better, sustainable price for us,” Ms Tonge said.

The Tonge farm is part of the Federal Government's Dairy Farm Monitor Project that provide data.

"The profits for dairy farms is the lowest in the past year since the project began seven years ago,” ms Tonge said.

According to data across Australia, dairy farmers' income in the past year has dropped from an average of $75,000 to $7000.

"A lot of us can survive one year, you have a reserve but you can't do it for too long,” Ms Tonge said.

With no "decent rain” Ms Tonge said they were lucky as they could "weir irrigate”.

"The government decreased water charges out of Toonumbar Dam last year,” Ms Tonge said. Farmers had protested and were unable to afford the higher charges until the government dropped the fees.

Other costs have soared, especially hay and grain.

"We spent $100,000 this year on hay and grain,” Ms Tonge said despite them having reserves.

Hay was coming from as far as South Australia and quores wwere between $500 to $750 a tonne, Ms Tonge said.

"Usually we would pay $320 to $340 a tonne,” she said.

With alll the hardships, the Tonge familuy love the dairy industry.

"Every year is different and it is such an innovative industry,” Ms Tonge said.

"If you like animals, dairy cattle are wonderful to work with.

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