Simon Morton is the fourth generation of his family to farm the land around Murrabit.
He loves the area, the river and the community and most days he loves his job as a dairy farmer, but this season trying conditions and inflated water prices are making things very tough for his family, his wife Ange and their three girls Belle (7), Lyla (5) and Pippy (2).
Mr Morton estimates his expenses this season will increase by $200,000 as he sources additional hay supplies and purchases temporary water.
“We knew we were going to lose money this year, so all our decisions have been based around trying to lose as little as possible, which is no way to run a business,” Mr Morton said.
“I am a passionate farmer and I love it, but it can be stressful and cost you a lot of money to stay in.
“We are better experienced to cope with bad water situations than we used to be because we are NSW irrigators and we have also learnt from the drought back in 2002, and I am an optimist, but still there is no denying it, things are very tough.
“I have 96 years of equity behind me and I know how tough it is. I really worry about the future of the industry and how people are going to survive, especially those that are new to the industry.
“Something needs to be done about the water situation or none of us will be here to farm in the future.”
Acknowledging things were going to be tough, making decisions early and consulting, planning and budgeting have been the method the couple has chosen to use this season.
Choppers were sold early on to take advantage of record prices and all their hay requirements have been sourced early.
Temporary water will still need to be purchased for autumn which is a major concern as prices continue to rise week by week, with no floor in the market in sight.
“It is heartbreaking really. You set things up on the farm the way you want – you get your pastures right so you can provide the cows with grass all year round and then you get a year like this and you are back to the start,” Mr Morton said.
“If water prices weren’t so high, some of the costs could have been absorbed, but current prices are just making things worse.”
Normally the couple grows all its own hay requirements and have a feed bank of pasture waiting to go, but high water prices in autumn and no major rain events, have meant things haven’t been irrigated as they should.
The family lease a 283ha property which provides them with hay, and a place to run their young stock.
This year the block has provided them with nothing because they couldn’t afford to water it in autumn.
Pastures that are normally watered twice have only been watered once and Mr Morton has stopped irrigating a couple of months earlier then he normally would.
The only pasture he is considering watering is a 17ha lucerne stand but that too is dependent on water prices.
“We are also considering exporting some heifers but I really would prefer to hang on to them if I can,” he said.
“Back in the drought we sold a lot of our young stock and when things improved it took me four years to get my stock numbers back up and I don’t want to go through that again.”
Mr Morton believes changes need to made to the Water Act to enable farmers to access unused environmental water and the market needs to be protected from corporate buyers and ruthless brokers.
“I just want to see a fair, even playing field that will sustain both agriculture and the environment,” he said.
“Our communities depend on a thriving agriculture industry and when things are tough for the farmers, they are tough for everyone.”