Providing breathing space to focus on recovery

Erica and Stu Halliday, New England NSW

Farmers in Walcha, NSW were among those hit hardest by the drought. This typically temperate area on the edge of the Northern Tablelands receives an average of 850mm rainfall a year, but in 2018 it got half that amount. In 2019 it got a quarter.

Erica and Stu Halliday run Ben Nevis Angus, a Walcha stud which has been in Erica’s family for five generations. They breed bulls which are sold Australia-wide and were in the process of a major expansion when the drought hit.

“We’d just pushed the system so much,” Erica said.

“We’d bought another property, pushed ourselves up to 1,000 cows, and then came the drought.”

At 1,350 metres above sea level, Erica and Stu are used to farming in brutal conditions. The area is characterised by freezing winters and long, hot summers, but nothing could have prepared them for the severity of this drought. They started looking into a Drought loan from the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) to help take the pressure off as the drought worsened.

Cattle drinking from a dam

“Something had to give, and cash flow obviously was difficult for everybody, so the loans were a godsend,” Erica said.

At the time of applying for the loan, Ben Nevis Angus was at full capacity and reliant on a very high turnover.

“Interest free for two years was a big thing for us because we’re a growing business and so we have big interest bills,” Erica said.

“We would have had to sell a lot more stock to pay for what we were doing. The loan is going to allow us to keep growing and making the most of the opportunities in front of us.”

Stu said their bank manager encouraged them to apply for the RIC loan.

“He was right on top of our cash flow at that stage, and we could see the holes coming,” he said.

A photo of Stu Halliday on the farm

"It's going to allow us to keep growing and making the most of the opportunities in front of us."

“The RIC loan allowed us a bit of freedom. It allowed us to keep stock which we would have had to sell at a low during the drought, which is probably not the thing that most farmers want to do.”

Erica said the loan process is more time consuming than many people may expect.

“I’m not the greatest with book work and the loan process was quite tedious,” she said.

“Of course, it was worthwhile, but you do need to sit down in the office for a couple of days at least. I knew I’d be locked up in the office. And it was cold when I did it, so I was quite happy!”

Stu said the application process allowed them to highlight what was important for the future of Ben Nevis Angus.

“We did a lot of forecasting; what should we sell, what shouldn’t we sell. We really had to go to town with the least-cost rations,” he said.

“It made us put key points in with the drought, and the RIC loan was the start of doing that,” Erica said.

“Doing our budgets and cash flows going forward and saying, well here’s a trigger point, if it doesn’t rain by here, we have to sell so many stock. And once we had that plan in place, we just followed it.”

Erica said the process gave them confidence in their business plan.

“We know we can handle it; we’ve got the set up now and we can feed whatever we want to feed,” she said.

Erica and Stu plan to use the savings on interest for embryo transfer, artificial insemination, marketing, fencing and pasture regeneration.

“It allows us to have breathing space,” Stu said.

“We’re going to change our tact with our pastures. This drought’s given us another focus on trying to be a bit kinder to the soil. We lost a lot of topsoil during the drought, or as it rained following the drought, because we had a lot of bare country and that’s a big no-no,” he said.

“The future of our business looks great, because it’s a family business and we want to keep including extra family and growing the business,” Erica said.

“We’re excited about regenerative agriculture. We’re excited about where the beef industry’s going. We want to be part of it.