One farmer tells her story: ‘Every day we pray for rain’

By Vanessa Wiltshire

THE seasons have well and truly shifted, and, with autumn has come welcome – and much needed – rain. But the seasons are temporary. Within a matter of months, spring will arrive, giving way to the heat of summer once again.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s climate outlook overview, for the three months from May to July, eastern and southern Australia show no strong tendency towards above or below average rainfall. Warmer than average days and nights during May to July are very likely (greater than 80% chance) for large parts of northern and eastern Australia, with chances reducing in the southwest.

Further, a short-lived El Niño may develop in the coming months, which would increase the chances of drier conditions in the east. An El Niño occurs when sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become substantially warmer than average, and this causes a shift in atmospheric circulation. As a result, the heavy rainfall that usually occurs to the north of Australia moves to the central and eastern parts of the Pacific basin.

For our farmers, this is challenging news. As weather patterns shift, it becomes more difficult to predict and manage land, crop, stock and business.

Through sharing the experiences and real stories of our farmers, we can better empathise with the challenges they face. Through storytelling we can develop a stronger appreciation of the work they do and what it takes to grow and deliver the food we eat.

This week’s Farmer’s Story, written in April, is by Belinda Hagan of McIvor Farm Foods in Tooborac and is published with permission.

Farmer’s Story – Belinda Hagan

We’re coming up to the middle of the year, and we can say from all of us on McIvor Farm, the year has seen a lot of challenges.

As the drought continues, we’ve seen the price of feed increase and more recently with less feed in the paddocks the pigs eat more of the grain mix – a double whammy! Each day we still have to feed our animals, so for now, there is no other option – we must pay the higher price for the lowering yields of grain across the country. Our beautiful green, luscious farm now seems like a barren dustbowl.

The paddocks are dry and bare so the clear days bring wind, which blows across the paddocks as dust.

From personal perspective (or, as personal as you can separate business and life on a working family farm), we’re not feeling as positive as we did a few months back. We’re struggling to feel motivated to interact with those outside our gate, including all our supporters online. We feel your love and thank each and every one of you who has reached out, liked, shared or commented on our social media – every little bit of support counts.

We don’t want to sound like ‘whingeing farmers’, we know that this is the lifestyle we’ve chosen. Though we must say, any lifestyle that relies on weather is inherently stressful, as it’s outside of our control.

Jason and I are working hard but seeing it all become dust before our eyes is chipping away at our morale. Our eyes well up with tears and we think “stop it, toughen up and get back to work! There’s no time to feel so sad.” So we put on our boots and walk back outside.

A close girlfriend of ours who is also a small business operator said to me yesterday “business can be hard at times, but I shut the door and go home”. For us, there is no shutting the door to keep the problems locked ‘over there’, our business is where we live, it’s our home. I look out the window while eating breakfast and see the dry paddocks and the dust, then like a bath with the plug pulled out, my morning energy and optimism for the new day is drained from me.

The pressure of being a farmer is at times, overwhelming. Like many jobs, choices and sacrifices have been made. I’m sure most can relate to being proud of what you do, not showing weakness – but gosh, are we doing it tough!

What can you do to help a farmer in drought?

Keep turning up at the farmers’ markets, farm gates and produce shops. Your continued support keeps us in business. We’re not sitting on huge piles of gold coins, each pack of sausages or roast you buy from us goes into buying feed for our pigs, putting fuel in our vehicles, running cool rooms, processing animals and paying all the standard operating bills.

We want all our customers who love locally grown food and want to continue to see food produced in Australia to feel like they’ve got skin in the game. We’re coming to a time of ‘use it or lose it’, once small producers go out of business there will be less competition in the market and fewer options for consumers to eat locally and sustainably.

What are we doing?

We’re in survival mode.

Some days we’re treading water doing the priority of feeding and caring for the pigs, other days we dip below and feel like we’re drowning.

We’re trying to put strategies in place to take out the emotion from decision making.

Turning up to the farmers’ markets – they really have a mental health aspect to us. Being able to get off the farm, talk about the delicious pork we produce and most of all interacting with people who really appreciate our efforts. We sometimes put on a brave face when you ask ‘how are you going’ – but that’s OK; sometimes it is best to talk about something with us besides the weather and the farm!

Lastly, every day we pray for rain. The forecast this week is promising so after jotting down this blog post we’re all going to lift our chins to the sky in hopes of seeing the clouds roll through and finally getting the soaking we need to make us feel like we’re not drowning.

■Friday 3rd May – It RAINED!! Yes a beautiful 30mm has fallen from the skies onto McIvor Farm this week and it has certainly lifted our spirits. We don’t think that one rain of 30mm is going to fix the season – we will all be still praying for follow-up rains for the rest of autumn and then into winter. Keep praying with us!

Are you a local farmer with a story or experience to share? Get in touch [email protected]