News National The forgotten farmers hit hard by Australia’s big dry

The forgotten farmers hit hard by Australia’s big dry

farmers in drought
Egg farmers are facing costs increases of up to 60 per cent because of the drought. Photo: Getty
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Lasting images of drought in Australia are often dusty crops, emaciated or dead stock and Akubra-wearing farmers holding dust in their hands.

The current drought crisis in New South Wales and Queensland has again captured these images and told the stories of farmers facing ruin.

But there are food producers, such as egg and pig farmers, who are often forgotten in the narrative, quietly suffering the immense financial burden of the drought without affecting Australians’ grocery bills.

“We don’t sit within the mythology of drought, dead cattle, dry paddocks, the man in the Akubra, that’s the story of farming in Australia,” Egg Farmers Australia chief executive John Dunn told The New Daily.

“I can’t imagine anyone producing food would have it easy right now, but the level of exposure is acute and more long-lasting for egg farmers.”

Egg farmers across Australia are facing skyrocketing costs for feed, with grain prices rising as much as 60 per cent, from $280 to $450 per tonne in only six months.

With feed comprising 50 to 70 per cent of egg producers’ input costs, many farmers are losing 20 per cent on their “farm gate” or wholesale price.

A report from the Commonwealth Bank put the potential cost of the drought at $12 billion, warning of future food price hikes.

But the high production costs have yet to be felt by consumers. Mr Dunn said the price of eggs continued to fall on supermarket shelves, dropping 20 per cent since the beginning of the 2018 drought, leaving Australian consumers completely unaware of producers’ pain.

“Farms are going broke. Seventy per cent of the time, I’m helping them [farmers] stay positive, to stay in the game,” Mr Dunn said.

Far from the parched paddocks of NSW, egg producer Danyel Cucinotta told The New Daily her farm at Werribee, on the outskirts of Melbourne, had felt the impacts of drought.

The third-generation egg farmer said Australian chicken feed – made of wheat, barley, oat and corn – had become “astronomical” since the drought.

“Feed contributes to 60 per cent of production,” she said.

“To give you an idea, my 18,000 girls eat 25 tonnes of grain in 10 days,” Ms Cucinotta said.

The egg producer said that consumption rate was for barn eggs, but free-range eggs required more feed because free-range chooks exercise more.

“This is an endless battle in agriculture, the supermarkets set a standard for pricing and we have no choice,” Ms Cucinotta said.

“Ideally, if the cost of production goes up, we should be able to charge more for the product. But because of price wars they’ve basically reduced farm-gate price by 50 per cent in the last year.”

But egg producers are not the only “forgotten” farmers affected by the drought, with the big dry also hitting pork producers already struggling in an over-supplied market.

Pig producer, Emma Baxter from Forbes, NSW, told The New Daily the price of pork had been at record lows for the last two years.

Ms Baxter said her farm, which once had 200 sows, was done to 30, and estimated her business had been loosing more than $15,000 a month over the last two years.

She said her family couldn’t keep sustaining the losses and had decided to shut down their shed. She believed the drought was “just going to make it a lot harder” for many small to medium-sized pork producers.

“Our two grain producers aren’t going to have a harvest, so grain will be really expensive and the pig price is not going to improve any time soon,” Ms Baxter said.

“The time we worked out we were losing about $60 a head per pig.”

Victorian Farmers Federation pig group president, Tim Kingma who operates a piggery outside Echuca, in northern Victoria, told The New Daily that with grain up by $100 per tonne, the production cost was 40 cents more per kilo.

Mr Kingma said the wholesale price of pork was between just $2.15 to $2.40 per kilogram.

“Pig prices have been near the cost of production for six to 12 months now, and grain prices have gone through the roof because of drought,” he said.

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