This article from a few weeks ago on Fonterra's payout has fired up again in recent days with a series of comments from readers about problems that large dairy conversion farms are having with servicing big debts and keeping their staff and animals healthy. The debate sparked up again after readers saw Fran O'Sullivan's comment piece this week in the NZ Herald suggesting the government engineer or broker a bailout of some of these large conversions before they collapsed. We have been unable to verify any of the claims made and none of them relate to specific or named farms, but we want to find out more and nail down what's happening. Alex Tarrant and I plan to investigate this further and to gather as much information on the problems with large herds. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com with any fresh information/photos/videos or simply post a comment at the bottom of this article. We are keen to talk directly to people to find out more and, if possible, obtain evidence (photos/videos) of what is happening on these farms. Please email us with your numbers and we will be in touch. Here's a summary of the key comments. William says The only thing I can take from Frans Herald piece is that she or someone she is involved with is a dire straits dairy farmer. Most of those in trouble were greedy bastards. Do they care about the animals they own and farm. No. Ever seen a lame mob in one of these big herds. 200 yes 200 cows hobbling along. Ever seen how the bobbies are treated Fran, left on the ground in a heap to die. Ever seen the cows waiting to be calved. Heads handing out, but the workers and vets are too busy with other cows to get to them. How about the big "C " farmers. They wouldnt even employ vets, it was too expensive. I could go on and on and on and on. Its time these assholes get the uppercut from the market. They are in farming for greed. Just like Mike Kings pigs, horror stories that stay hidden. But they are there, they are real, and we avoid them so we get our cheap milk and pork. Yes I hope these sods go down, they give good dairy farmers a bad name. Some of these big herds are shameful places.
stevel says: Heard of a cockie today who dumped $300k of unpaid, overdue bills on his bank managers desk and said "your problem now" and walked off. They had him budgeted on 210k milk solids production for the year, but he had dried of in Feburary and only done 160k milk solids. No doubt lots more like this to come. Andrewj says: Heard of large farmers not paying huge fert bills. I mean huge amounts. There must be huge pressure on the support industries.(also not paying for irrigation installation) These big dairy developers have a lot to answer for. Like William I have witnessed horror animal welfare,I am to ashamed to talk about it, almost, as a taste, rubber rings on teats that have mastitis to stop workers being able to milk from teat and contaminate vat. I have zero compassion for many large scale farmers. Ive been exposed to the tough side of farming all my life and agree whole heartily with William, when animals just become a means to an end it a very sad day, let them burn. William says I took on some grazers a month ago. The dairy cocky was new to the job of rearing young stock. Didnt drench, didnt feed them. I got them and they were dying. Yip. Learning experience for dairy man. What makes me mad, his boss. Milking far too many cows on far too little acres. No money, so they keep the heifers on till May rather than get grazing and put the heifers behind the cows! Like milking cows are gona leave a skerrick of grass. The bossman should know better. Owns several farms. The story is just too familiar though. I called into my neighbours a few days ago. They had photographs of their grazers. Their lot were dying on the delivery truck. Hamish I think our milk could be cheaper if us farmers didnt bid each other into the poor house over land. Andrew, as farmers, seeing what we see going on, we have to do something. I phoned MAF on tuesday. Ironically, it was a sheep and beef farmer. A chronic case, starves his animals every year. He had an emaciated cow, with a starving calf beside the road. I have phoned the man in the past and told him he needed to buck up his ideas. Its damn hard, we have to live with these people in our communities. I agree let them burn. I can imagine the size of those fertilizer bills, Ballance and Ravensdown will be struggling. William says: I made an error in one of yesterdays posts. If farmers arent paying fertilizer bills, it will be RD1, PGG Wrightson and Farmlands wearing it. Had some trouble knocking my own fert bill on the head last season. Tripled in one year. Larger than my annual debt servicing cost now. Long term we are stuffed if fertilizer reaches these heights again, which is probable seeing a good whack of it is petroleum based. Looking ahead the problems for profitable farming are frightening. Andrewj says William Just out of a meeting. Its hit the fan, unpaid bills everywhere,wages unpaid, stories of some farms 30-40 k behind on wages.17 conversions in trouble in Southland this week. Major headaches in rural support industries no one is getting paid. Banks are trying to sell farms at price of land before conversion. Wheres Fonterra and your 4 million $ man when you need him? William Says No Trev, I agree with Andrew we dont want dickheads like John Campbell on the job. The likes of Campbell or the Sunday journalists wouldnt give a damn for the animals either. Another bunch of money (ratings) driven wallies. Overseas markets would overreact. I dont really know what the answer is. Perhaps us farmers who give a shit should be hasselling those that dont. I am an AB Tech (artificial breeding technician, I get cows in calf) and on my travels I see a lot of "¦.. shady stuff. It is a difficult thing pointing out to somebody they are mistreating animals. So I tend not to, unless its over the top. I think we all, that is other farmers, need to be tougher, louder and more to the point. I do now refuse to work on farms where lots of cows have broken tails. You have given me food for thought though. Perhaps we should be documenting what we see, with video. Passing it on to MAF. Clearly MAF need more animal welfare investigators. Andrew, I regularly do herds where heifers are so poor, i just know I am wasting my time. I suggest putting them on once a day, I am looked at as if I am mad. Yet down the line I ask how pregnancy testing went. The answer, a large empty rate. One would think a couple of weeks of once a day, compared to dry 3yr olds. But nah it doesnt compute. Instead mega thousands are spent on cidrs. Inducing. Minerals"¦. Mark Hubbard says: This is my first real foray into this thread. Reading all the comments here, I have been very confused, and have to say, I agree with Alex Fear quoted above. I have dairy farming clients throughout South Canterbury, some of them big (1000 plus cow herds), and I am in regular email contact with them - I'm trying to convert them all into Austrians. :). Yes, some have high levels of debt, but no one is being pressured by their bank, they are all paying their bills, as far as I know, and it is not as dire as one would think reading the above. Perhaps it is different in Southland, where AndrewJ is, I have no clients down there, but from where I sit, it is not dire, banks are taking a reasoned approach to the situation, my clients are taking the actions needed to weather this, there is no panic. The animal welfare issue is different, I'm an animal lover - indeed, am ex a farming family, but could not farm because I would become too attached to the stock - and would be distressed if some of what I read above is true regarding the large herds. I suspect there is truth in some of it, but again, I am sure on my client base this is not going on. My dairy clients, including the large herd guys, are not land speculators, they are dairy farmers and they love their industry, and their herds (including the welfare of). But, thus far, and gained from talking to my dairy clients bank managers, we are nowhere near the financial armageddon that would be signified in some of the posts above. So, I keep a watching brief. Information is king. I look forward to more analysls on this site. Brownie says Hi William If the wife had a smile on her face and the cows were content chewing there cud, Life was pretty good. During our 30 odd years of farming and engineering(to pay farm expenses) my wife and I witnessed many aspects of animal welfare situations that annoyed us and many work practices in both industries that caused harm to good people that were only trying to do the right thing and provide for their families. We are now both Warranted Inspectors working in the fields of workplaces and animal welfare . It is through public reporting that we can investigate the wrongs that are happening out there and try to correct them, most of the time this is achieved through communication so I do agree with you and Yes report these.Better to have said something than say nothing at all. Andrewj says Mark I talked to my accountant last year about what a terrible time we were having. He thought it was going ok , so far he could see no problems. Last month he was in shock horrible books massive losses. He was just doing the books over a year after the event. This year he is busy because the banks want to see the accounts asap to check on the financial state of their clients. I suspect many dairy conversions in north Canterbury are under financial stress. One of my friends has bolted in hiding with his wife while Rabo appoints a manager up to the auction, nice guy works hard just out of his depth in debt. The farmer Stevel talks about dropping 300k of bills on the bank mangers desk wasn't the farm i thought so that makes 2 i know in similar state. My father always said, a dairy farmers idea of cost cutting is to dig a hole and bury the cheque book till spring. Great for the farmer hard on the service sector. I also have a friend owed a heap for irrigation equipment from the Wairarapa so the problems I believe affect all new conversions and all existing farmers with high debt. William says Andrew, the new conversion down the road have run out of money, they have 40k for 2 staff members. They intend to milk 1500 cows through a 54 rotary, with 1 staff member milking. Yes 1. They are due to start calving in 4 weeks, the shed is at least 8 weeks from finish. At least they havent run away, yet. Your earlier posts this evening are too frightening to contemplate. So I will pretend I didnt read them. stevel says Yep Mark I think that cockies can hide deficits for ages in their business. I talked to a independent stock agent a couple of days ago, one of his clients left him hanging on $275k worth of dairy stock (heifers). His terms of trade were 14 days, he got paid at 28 days. Was the longest 2 weeks of his life, but he was sooooo relived to get paid! The slippery slide is getting more vertical by the week (day?). I'm in the same boat as you Brownie, my wife gave me the ultimatum a couple of years ago "you choose; the fanny and the family or the f@rkin farm". So after 20 years of farming I'm back at school! (thanks for funding my higher education fonterra) Mark Hubbard says: Anyone any comment on this? Long term, the dairy industry is still a good one Les. And, I've read the posts following my above one, but until I see the actual evidence of a large scale forced sale of dairy farmers, I will continue to go with the facts that I still have at the moment, which is that banks are not making hasty, or ill judged decisions, they will continue to see the majority of their dairy customers through this. Yes, there will certainly be an increased incidence of those with the biggest debt loads forced off, no doubt about that - noting that a certain level of has always been happening, indeed, probably the biggest individual dairy farmer to "˜go' in this manner in South Canterbury, did so well before this supposed crisis even started - but I still do not see this as the "˜avalanche' or extreme crisis intimated above, or in Fran Sullivan's article (which I have to say did surprise me). I might be wrong - it's happened before All we can all do is keep a watching brief. Your views and insights? 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