Yandoit dairy farmers, Robert and Belinda Morrison, supply Warrnambool Cheese and Butter and Sungold Milk. They were recently recognised in the 2018 Great South West Dairy Awards. They spoke with The Advocate.
Robert Morrison’s family has been farming since 1856.
Currently, the family milks 110 cows.
“The relationship we have with the land is hard to quantify, for six generations it has either directly or indirectly fed, clothed and sheltered us,” Mr Morrison said.
“The connection we have here is something only the indigenous community would better understand. I feel as if we never really own the land but are responsible for its care for future generations.”
“Many of our farming practices have proven successful in helping us remain viable but long term, real sustainability can only be achieved if the farmer is paid a sustainable return and I consider some of the best custodians of the land to be genuine farmers,” he said.
Mr Morrison said there had once been hundreds of dairy farmers in Hepburn Shire, but they are now one of only two remaining.
“If you go back to the days of the Newstead Butter Factory, it was rumoured there were 3000 cows being milked within three miles of that factory.
“You will find the remains of dairy farming on most of the farms you visit today.”
He said his farm was included in the Ballarat group of farmers, which he called “an endangered species.” While there were once about 180 dairy farmers in the 1980’s, there were now only about 18.
Mr Morrison said the decline in farmers was a combination of factors, but a major one was that farming “was a lot of hard work for little return.”
“Although there is considerable empathy towards farmers in general, unfortunately we are at the mercy of global markets and an increasing numbers of consumers and governing bodies both here and around the world continue to place greater demands on the way farms are run with little regard for our long term viability or the good work we already do,” he said.
“People get older and start to sell up, meaning a lot of good farm land is being turned into lifestyle properties,” he said. “It is a great loss to the shire to lose that number of farms, especially as many people don’t realise how many there used to be.”
Although the liquid milk market was only a small sector of where his milk ends up, Mr Morrison said that Australian milk prices were governed by overseas markets which had driven the price of Australian dairy down in recent years.
“At the moment, we are currently at the mercy of European producers who are flooding the world with milk and dairy products.
He said it was offensive to see consumers paying the lowest price for their produce.
“One dollar a litre milk is insulting for dairy farmers to see on the shelf. It devalues our product.
“People don’t understand the amount of work and expense that goes into producing these dairy products.
“We understand consumers are also feeling a financial pinch, but if they’re willing to pay the lowest possible price, chances are there will be less farmers in the future, less food security and less protection of the environment,” he said.
The Morrisons were winners of the 2018 Great South West Dairy Awards for Natural Resources and Sustainability Management and were also finalists for the Farm Business Management Award.
Mr Morrison said the West Vic Dairy Awards shone a light on the work farming families do in terms of sustainability.
The judging process was very extensive and involved a long process.
“We were judged on a whole range of management practices including natural resources such as water use and efficiency, soil health and nutrient management,” Mr Morrison said.
It also included the consideration of wildlife corridors and the protection of sensitive vegetation areas.
“As well as the protection of stream sides, remnant vegetation, control of weeds and pests and the interaction of agriculture and bio-diversity, just to name a few.”
Mr Morrison said being sustainable was also about managing the farming business through variables beyond their control, like droughts, unpredictable weather events, global currency fluctuations and distorted international markets.
“It has been a great honour to have been recognised in the Great South West Dairy Awards for our efforts and its been greatly appreciated,” he said.
Mr Morrison urged consumers to support their farmers now and in the future.
“Please, support your farmers and value the contribution they make to not only putting food on the table but preserving the environment for years to come,” he said.
The Morrison’s son, Nick, will continue to farm the land as a sixth generation farmer.
Mr Morrison said this was what he believed to be every farming father’s ambition and dream but that his son would be challenged.
“It is credit to him for having the intestinal fortitude for putting his hand up and saying it is the life he wants.
“But unless people like him are supported into the future, we, and many other farms like ours, will cease to exist in the future.”
“There will be less land, water and fertiliser to meet the demand of food supplies in the future. It’s a pendulum. At the moment it is favouring consumers as farmers are extremely efficient and productive in putting food on those supermarket shelves in spite of all the challenges we face.
“But with the growing population, the declining number of farmers and the pressures we face, you’ve got to ask yourself, what happens when supply and demand moves the other way?”