Farmers pushed to breaking point

By Country News on June 11, 2016

“I have always been broke but never broken and now I am both.”

This is the sentiment of an ordinary dairy farmer.

A person who works 12-hour days without complaint because he is doing what he loves. A man who works hard to support his wife and three young children, a man beaten by an announcement that he didn’t see coming.

Patho dairy farmers Chris and Jade Jones are struggling to get their heads around Fonterra’s milk price drop bombshell, struggling because they don’t know what it means for their business or their farming future.

The money they have supposedly been ‘overpaid’ is gone, spent on water, fertiliser, seed and corn silage – spent on things needed to set the farm up for the next season.

“We don’t want to have to get out, but at the same time we can’t keep losing money and be forced to take on more debt by our milk company because they can’t manage their business properly,” Mr Jones said.

“Fonterra need to be held accountable for their mistake and I can’t believe there are no legal ramifications for what they have done.

“Not only is it morally incorrect, but we have no other avenue we can take. We just have to accept their decision and it’s wrong.

“They tell us every year to budget. Why couldn’t they do the same?”

One thing Mr and Mrs Jones do know, is the minute they can swap over to a new company they will be gone.

“We have spoken to eight different milk companies but no-one can take us on at the moment,” Mrs Jones said.

They refused Fonterra’s offer of a loan that locks them into supplying the company for the next four years and have elected to take the price drop.

“Why would we want to lock ourselves into a loan deal with a company we no longer trust and who manage their business the way Fonterra do,” Mrs Jones said.

“I also find it very contradictory they have to take money off us and yet can still afford to loan it back to us anyway.”

Like most farmers they are speaking with advisers and their bank so any decisions they make moving forward are informed and well thought-out.

They are also hoping to complete Murray Dairy’s Taking Stock program to identify any weaknesses in their business.

As soon as the price drop was announced the couple sold a dozen cows and dried-off 70-odd spring calvers.

They are currently milking 240 autumn-calving cows.

They plan on cutting costs wherever possible, but in reality there is not too many more areas that can be cut.

They are hoping they can get away without having to buy any more hay and just feed the cows grass, but a wet winter could upset those plans.

“We just aren’t going to make any rash decisions,” Mrs Jones said.

There is always the option to sell some young stock but that is a decision the couple is hoping to avoid.

“They are our future and to see your young stock loaded up on a truck and sold to someone else is heartbreaking. We put a lot of time, money and work into breeding them,” Mr Jones

It has been a rocky road for the couple, who purchased the farm at Patho just before the milk price drop in 2008-09, but despite that love the industry.

“We have had a couple of years where we have managed okay but an announcement like this from Fonterra wipes out any gains we had made over the years and puts us right back to the start again,” Mrs Jones said.

“It is stressful and you try to manage things the best that you can, but we have a lot of uncertainty and it is putting pressure on us all.”

Mrs Jones works off-farm as a nurse but with a young family and a dairy farm to run, she can’t just go out and work more shifts.

“The kids have to get ready for school. Our youngest daughter is still in kinder and it’s not as simple as just going out and working more,” she said.

“I booked a holiday early in the year and even though it is paid for news like this takes the enjoyment out of anything you do. You start to feel guilty and you question all of your decisions.”

They love the lifestyle dairying provides for their young family, and city friends love to come up to the farm for a holiday.

“We don’t want to get out but you do wonder about the next generation. I wouldn’t want my kids to go through what we have. There is always something and we just seem to be the bottom feeders that everyone else feeds off,” Mr Jones said.

By Country News on June 11, 2016

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