Brett Napier is hoping 2023 will make up for the disappointment of the 2022 season and, so far, things are looking pretty promising.
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“I get pretty annoyed when I hear it’s a bonanza for dairy farmers right now,” Brett said.
“Some of us got flooded last year and lost significant amounts of money — this year is all about making up the ground we lost, well for us it is anyway.
“We are 12 months away from seeing any good results, that’s the forces of nature unfortunately.”
Brett is referring to the 2022 flood which saw him lose around 385 hectares of pasture resulting in what he reckons amounts to about a $300,000 fodder loss on his property at Blighty, in the Riverina region of southern NSW.
“One of our properties had floodwater 1.5 metres deep across it and we had to check the house by boat.
“We lost all our hay and dry stock feed and had to buy in a lot of expensive fodder to compensate.”
But having said that, 2023 has certainly turned things around with the business already storing 800 dry tonnes of silage undercover and 500 bales of lucerne and clover hay in the stack.
“I think we will cut 1000 bales of barley straw which combined with our other fodder will give us enough feed for the next 18 months.”
He has just finished sowing 23ha of corn which he will put in the pit next year.
Shoring up water allocation is key to the farm success and Brett still remembers the terrible lessons from the millennium drought.
“We had to sell most of our MIL water to survive back then and I never want to have to sell an asset to survive ever again, nor should I have to,” he said.
In March 2020 and after the end of the 2019 drought, the business decided to invest in a new bore that has been a massive game changer and given Brett the confidence to keep dairying.
“Putting a new bore in has kept us in the industry and if it ever gets dry like that again, we have a plan in place that will allow us to grow feed and stay away from $500 megalitre water prices — our old bore was useless.”
With the help of a Rural Authority Assistance grant Brett was able to install a 300 horse power pump and 15 inch pipe to run the bore.
“Bore water is cheaper than MIL water and we can pump up to 24Ml/day although I would say the sweet spot is about 15/Ml a day.
“The water quality is about 900 parts per million which makes it good enough water quality to use straight up without shandying in a dry year, although you do have to be careful and wouldn’t want to have to use it year in year out.”
Like all farmers, Brett is worried about Federal Water Minister Tanya Pliberseks Restoring Our Rivers bill and the removal of the socio-economic test to protect the community from the impacts of buybacks.
“Access to affordable irrigation underpins the success of our business and the community that depends on us — buybacks decimate our region and if we lose another 450 gigalitres of water you can say goodbye to at least 20 per cent of the nation’s fresh milk,” he said.
Another key to the success of the business is labour, and with two full-time staff, Brett is keen to get the work/life balance right.
With cups on at 5.30am and milking finished at around 6.30pm, the days are often long and tiring.
“We rely heavily on our workers so we always make sure we pay well and look after them by providing plenty of time off.”
Expecting to milk 350 when the herd finishes calving down, Brett is currently milking 315 through a 20-a-side herringbone dairy.
The business has been supplying Riverina Fresh out of Wagga for the last couple of years.
“We are looking to consolidate our business from now on and we are also getting into dairy beef, selling 150 steers each year to help with our cash flow,” Brett said.
Having been dairying for the last 23 years, Brett reckons he has still got a few years left in him yet.
He is hoping the next few will be a little kinder and free of crippling droughts and flooding rains.
“A couple of good seasons will make all the difference,” he said.