Imagine having your income dictated by something you can’t control – the weather. Herbert sheep farmer Jo Hay offers some insight into what drought conditions mean for farmers, for those less in the know, and some coping strategies for farmers who are in the thick of it.
Over the weekend we got 5mm of rain.
It’s pretty exciting! You see, we’re in a drought. The powers that be haven’t made it official yet, but we all know it and are living it.
In a normal year we would get something between 600mm and 650mm of rainfall.
This year, as we all know and for more reasons than one, is far from normal. It is also only December.
We are quite used to these conditions in February and March, but we have got the heat of summer to come.
In the 40 years my father-in-law has been on this farm he has kept meticulous records. In the driest year, there was 15 inches, or 381mm, of rainfall. That is pretty dry.
In his wisdom he adds that some of the dry years were not necessarily the worst – it depended on the timing of the rainfall.
Some more of his wisdom is, every day is another day closer to rain. We hold on to that.
This year to date we have had a meagre 310mm. So, we are well behind the lowest year in a long time.
For us it means continually reassessing the plans.
We plan to finish a few store lambs; these are lambs you buy from other farmers and feed until they reach a finished weight. However, at this stage we will struggle to finish our own lambs, let alone the ones we buy in.
We’re thankful we made the decision to add some irrigation to our system a few years ago. After two gnarly droughts in a row we saw it as necessary.
It doesn’t drought-proof us, as just 12% of our farm is irrigated, but it does give us options.
If you’re not a farmer you might not understand why drought is so hard. So I’ll try to explain it.
Firstly, we love our land. We take pride in it, and we want it to nourish the animals and humans it sustains.
Our farms are a bit like an extended vege garden. Imagine putting a whole lot of work into getting the vege garden growing and then not watering it. Much as a garden would stop growing, that is what happens to our pasture and crops. Most people are well into sowing crops for next winter. Decent rainfall is crucial for these to grow well enough to feed the animals we have at this time.
Secondly, we love our animals. We do our very best to have them in optimum condition all the time.
When the pasture doesn’t grow, they don’t have as much food to eat and they go hungry. This means we must sell stock to someone who does have feed.
If it’s stock that would be sold anyway, but they’re not yet ready to sell, it’s a bit like a shop having a sale of new season stock, so it’s not ideal.
If it’s your capital stock (these might be your breeding stock) you’re selling an asset – a little bit like selling your car or part of your section.
Because you’re selling stock before they’re at an optimum, you don’t get paid what you’d planned to get. So add to that a pay cut of easily 10% to 20%. For some it will be a lot worse.
Each scenario is different for each farmer. Imagine having your income dictated by something you can’t control – the weather.
While we farmers can’t control the weather, we can control how we respond.
Here are a few ideas:
- Make decisions early. Set dates and stick to them, even if it rains.
- Connect with others. Keep good relationships with your mates and your family.
- Get off farm. A change of scenery is good for the soul.
- Exercise. It releases endorphins and makes you feel good.
- Eat well. You need the right fuel in your tank.
- Sleep well. You need to keep your batteries charged.
We are all in this together. Reach out if you need support. You are not alone.