Farmer Stories: Lindsay

Lindsay and his family have a sheep, cattle and cereal farming property at Tullamore, New South Wales—about an hour and half west of Dubbo. He and his wife, Cheryl, have been farmers for 30 years and his parents were farmers.

Lindsay shared his story with us, in his own words.

Cheryl and Tash

We’re heading back into drought again now. We’re trying to destock, given the dry conditions, but we can’t sell everything for nothing. In the last drought, our sheep and cattle were worth money and costs were lower. At the moment, a cow is worth about $300 per head, which is about 30 cents per kilo. In a good market, like 18 months ago, it could be up to $3,000, which is about $3 per kilo. Similarly, sheep today are worth about $20 per head, which is less than 90 cents per kilo. In a good market, they would be $300 per head, which is about $13 per kilo. There is no money for anyone in farming.

We’re at the point that we’re working to save the stock we can save, but we’re financially better off to shoot the older sheep. It’s not just the low sale prices, it’s the high costs like yard dues, transportation and agents’ commissions and by the time all the costs come out, there’s no money left for farmers to survive. Costs like fuel are $2.20 per litre and in the last drought it was $1.35 on average. And, in this economy, we can’t afford to buy anything.

We’ve come into the drought after two really wet years, including floods that washed out 20 kilometres of fences and dam walls. The hay and grain we had stored to get us through the next dry season, turned into nothing with mould from the wet and a mouse plague. We had mice everywhere—they were 6 inches deep and we were trapping 50 mice in the house every night. We couldn’t get in the car to drive and they even shorted out a header (tractor). We managed to save the grain stored in silos but lost about $150,000 worth of hay and grain, which would have feed our stock for about 6 months. We’ve got a big influx of feral goats, pigs and foxes, plus roos. On any day, we’ll see 200 to 300 goats driving around and they’re causing a lot of damage that we have to deal with. 18 months ago goats were worth more than lambs at the market—but even they’re worth nothing now.

Since November 2022, we haven’t had much rain at all. If we don’t get rain in the next couple of months, it’ll get serious because our dams are under half full now. We’ve had to buy drinking water for the house, which costs about $1,500 for two months. We’re buying feed for the stock, like hay, grain and nuts at the moment. We planted 200 acres of lucerne, 500 acres of barley and 200 acres of oats and nothing has grown. We’re going to lose the lot. Usually, we’d be sowing cow peas and millet for feed but we can’t sow anything because it’s so dry. When it’s like this, we need help to get us through. We’re one of the lucky ones and managed to get a load of hay from Victoria, thanks to Aussie Helpers. Aussie Helpers helped us big time in the last drought. They bought a couple of semi loads of hay, which we shared with other farmers in need in our area.

We used to be able to make money in farming but now we’re going backwards. There’s too much stock to sell domestically since live cattle and sheep exports have decreased and are stopping—but red meat is still very expensive at the shops. A lot of the big primary production is owned by overseas companies in China, Lebanon, Canada and England, and the big companies gobbled up the meat exports in the AUKFTA. Retailers are buying the meat cheap and selling it at market high prices. They’re buying the entire sheep for the same price that they sell a leg of lamb to their customers.

I’m fairly old now, and I’m worried about my grandkids and what their future will be. Everyone is leaving the land because there is no future. We grow our own fruit and vegies and have our own chooks and cows for milk and eggs so we don’t have to go off the farm to survive. But we need an income to pay the bills like rates and keep producing food to feed people. Even our rates have tripled—we’re charged $15,000 every year including garbage removal, but we have to take our own garbage to town and the road to town only gets graded once a year.

A lot of city people don’t understand what farmers are dealing with every day, a lot of the time on their own. Because of the isolation and what we go through, it’s really important for mental wellbeing to socialise‚ but we’re stuck at home these days because it’s too far to drive home and too expensive to stay in town.

It feels like you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t—there’s too much bureaucratic red tape. 10 years ago we thought we were doing the right thing by locking up 1,000 acres of scrub and timber country under native vegetation, but then the government changed the laws and rules.

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