HARD TIMES: Lower Mount Walker dairy farmer Steve Blanch loves his farm and hopes it will rain soon.
HARD TIMES: Lower Mount Walker dairy farmer Steve Blanch loves his farm and hopes it will rain soon. Contributed

Ipswich farmer vows to survive crippling drought, low prices

STEVE Blanch has sent his three sons away from the family's dairy farm - they won't work it as he did with his father as a young bloke.

Low dairy prices coupled with a crippling drought has put the Blanch's ownership of the Lower Mount Walker dairy farm at a bigger threat than any other time in their 64-year history.

Mr Blanch senior bought the 230ha property in 1954 before Steve and his brother took over in 1990.

While much has changed in the world since 1990 - the price of milk hasn't.

"Milk was a dollar a litre in 1993 and it's still a dollar per litre," Steve said.

"Try and find any other industry selling a commodity at 1993 prices - you won't."

There is an expectation Aussie farmers will push on, continuing to provide food for millions.

But Steve's defiance and drive during tough times is stripped raw when he talks about the wretched deal for dairy farmers.

"All of our expenses continue to go through the roof, everything from wages to drought-driven things like feed," he said.

"The trouble is when you're continually making nothing out of it and going further and further into debt there is a consideration that I don't know how much longer we can continue what we're doing."

"It's a shame to think we'll lose the family farm through no fault of our own."

Steve's father died five years ago and his three sons have secured trade jobs - realising the future was bleak on the farm.

It was a heartbreaking decision for Steve, who hoped he would one day hand the property over.

"The idea to keep the family farm was the whole idea of it," he said.

"We do consider throwing it in but we love where we live and we're on a good farm.

"If we would have known five to six years ago milk was going to stay at $1 we probably all would have jumped."

Steve hopes about 1.5 million litres of milk will be produced by the farm's 350 milking cows.

The family is paid about 55 cents for each litre.

He says a 10c increase will make farming viable again.

"If we can do that we don't need a massive shift in the milk price, as much as we'd like it," he said.

"Every 10c is $150,000.

"It would be the difference between living and dying."

When Steve left school in 1988 his father was getting about 58c per litre of milk.

"Today we struggle to get 56c," Steve said.

Drought has added to the family's heartache, spending thousands of dollars to keep cattle alive.

"There's a lot of mouths to feed when it doesn't rain," he said.

The dwindling number of dairy farms in Queensland also concerns Steve.

In 2001 there were 1550 dairy farms and today there is less than 370.

The state cannot afford to lose farms.

Queensland's population consumes about 600 million litres of milk each year.

Only 400 million is supplied by Queensland farms, with the 200 million-litre shortfall filled mostly by Victoria.

Steve is begging people to buy branded milk rather than Coles and Woolworths' $1 bottles.

He supplies Norco; Australia's largest farming co-op.

"Every cent of every litre of Norco milk goes back to the farmer in one way or the other," he said.

WEDDINGS A FAMILY'S SAVIOUR   TOUGH times in the dairy industry have prompted Sue and Steve Blanch to diversify their offerings.   The couple is working with Ipswich City Council to provide a full wedding package on their Lower Mount Walker farm.   Set among the gum trees on a homely Australian estate, the Blanch family say they have the ideal location to host a couple's special day.   Mr Blanch, 47, is a second-generation dairy farmer.   A combination of low milk prices and drought has put a financial noose around the couple's necks.   Their financial advisors issued a blunt message.   "They said if you want to keep the farm, you've got to do something," Mrs Blanch said.   The couple's dream is to provide a farmstay experience and provide additional offerings for weddings.    "Until we can afford to put accommodation up, we're opening up for weddings," she said.    They are in the process of renovating a rustic barn to provide a picture-perfect background to a couple's special day.   "We've already had a lot of inquiries," Mrs Blanch said.   For more information and to find out how you can support the family, visit rusticretreat.com.au.