Dairy farmers harness RIC finance to bounce back from disaster
Drought, flood and fires have all taken their toll in the Bega Valley but thanks to financial assistance from a RIC low-cost loan, Brodie and Kevin Game are focusing their efforts on what they can control to build for a stronger future.
The husband-and-wife partnership started dairy farming in 2010 with two Holstein cows.
“We were just milking two cows and rearing calves from those while we saved our pennies and worked fulltime,” Brodie said.
As a first-generation farm business, neither of them were raised in farming families, yet work experience ignited a passion for cattle and a desire to start their own agribusiness.
Kevin completed an apprenticeship while Brodie showed stud cattle and spent her high school work experience on a dairy farm.
Eighteen months after they started, they became involved in a share farm and took on a lease before buying their own farming property in Bemboka in July 2022.
They have built a year-round milking herd of 330 cows and run a total of 700 cattle across the two properties – predominantly Holsteins.
They have diversified their enterprise to raise any male progeny as steers for beef production.
“Rearing the male calves from the dairy is what got us started in the industry and recognising this business opportunity, we have continued to rear male calves as the business has grown,” Brodie said.
“The intensive nature of dairy farming interested us – I really enjoy seeing them every day, twice a day.”
They now milk 2.8 million litres a year and supply to Bega Cheese.
Tough times bring cumulative challenges
When drought conditions took hold during 2017-2019, the couple sold half their milking herd and young stock to maintain their operations and with feed reserves depleted, they were forced to buy-in feed at high prices.
Then during the summer of 2019-2020, bushfires struck and burned out their lease farm, with 50 head of stock lost due to the lasting effects of smoke inhalation and in-utero complications.
2020-2022 then brought multiple flooding events, leading to a loss of pasture and eroded cow lanes and waterways.
Brodie said while milk prices in 2022 improved, recovery was ongoing.
That’s when they turned to RIC to apply for a Farm Investment Loan.
“Because we managed to get the farm purchase through our commercial lender, we wanted to reduce our risk profile and improve our infrastructure after the recent challenges we faced,” Brodie said.
“Homegrown feed is the most cost-efficient way to feed our cows and, in this area, there can be six weeks between wet and dry periods so our pastures are vital – for the irrigation systems we had, maintaining that was very labour intensive.”
The Games applied for a loan to fund a pivot to irrigate an additional 35 hectares of pasture – it represents a significant upgrade on the existing inefficient bike shift irrigation.
Brodie said the new pivot would allow for greater pasture growth, more effective pasture management and would ultimately lower their exposure to the feed market.
As an added feature, the couple had the pivot designed so they could utilise the effluent system on-farm to deliver increased nutrients to the paddock, reducing their reliance on fertiliser and taking the total coverage area from 8 hectares to 43 hectares.
Brodie said with fertiliser costs currently at $900 a tonne, the investment had the dual benefit of building their feed stocks and reusing a waste product already available on the farm.
“It’s a three-stage system – when we hose out the dairy, the effluent from the cows goes into a solids trap, then the liquid goes into a holding dam and from there, it will go to the pivot,” she said.
“With carbon emissions becoming such a relevant topic, if we can utilise that by-product, it ticks a lot of boxes.”
Attractive loan terms help preparations
Brodie said the couple was attracted to RIC’s concessional loan interest rate.
“The interest-only period for the first 5 years of the 10-year loan term was very enticing because it gave us more time to install the pivot and pay the money back once it made money for us,” she said.
As the cycle of dry conditions approaches once more, she said the RIC loan was one way the couple could better influence their business conditions.
“Everything we had ever worked for was in our cows so dealing with those events was very nerve-wracking,” she said.
“The drought scared us because it was a slow, painful thing but since then, we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves and started to focus on everything within our control.
“Every disaster has changed our management of our business because it’s not an ‘if’ these things will happen again, it’s a ‘when’ and there’s different levers we can pull to get through it.”
She said they were grateful with the lending team at RIC who understood their needs and were willing to help them through the application process to approval and then settlement.
“Once all the information was there for the application, it was pretty seamless.”