Can't bank on prosperity

AFTER gazing into the financial crystal ball, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has forecast farm incomes across the nation will rise almost 50 per cent this financial year to total about $6 billion.

But does this translate to reality for all farmers on the Northern Rivers?

Ben Martin, General Manager of Eden Country Stores in Kyogle and Bangalow, believes the case might well be 'the complete opposite', and Kerry Handford, from Shannonbrook Seeds, agrees.

“I just can't see how it could increase to that, except if the Australian dollar dropped,” Mr Handford said.

Ron Martin, Agronomist at Eden Country Stores, feels local farmers will be less affected by the income rise, as the NAB figure takes high grain prices and large crops further west into account.

He said that while local crop farmers would benefit, as would dairy farmers due to milk prices rising, it would not be felt across the board.

The NAB has also tipped farm costs to rise 6 per cent this financial year, mainly due to price increases in fertiliser and fuel, by 34 and 26 per cent, respectively.

Ben Martin said incremental rises in farm inputs such as fencing wire, chemicals and fertiliser had impacted on farmers, with fertiliser sales becoming extremely competitive and high urea prices hurting farmers producing nitrogen-hungry crops. “The hardest-hit industries are the macadamia and sugar cane industries,” he said.

Mr Martin said the price of urea meant that corn producers and the dairy industry were also affected.

Mr Handford said local crop farmers were planting more nitrogen-producing winter crops and would plough them into the ground to provide enough nitrogen for sugar cane and corn crops to be planted later this year.

Ben Martin has already noticed a decrease in fertiliser sales, and says that farmers are looking for alternatives to expensive fertilisers.

“Farmers have pulled back on fertiliser use because of rising costs, and are asking us for alternatives because they can't afford to produce less,” he said.

“The situation has made farmers think outside the square, and has opened the door for alternate products, such as rock phosphate and seaweed-based products that work with the soil biology to promote good soil health.”

With the battle between input costs and income an ongoing issue for farmers, Ron Martin said there was 'always the bright side', and that farmers needed to stay positive and be a bit innovative.

“Farmers are being quite strategic now, and are doing leaf tests and soil analysis,” he said.

“Before they used urea over the paddock to grow their ryegrass, but they're not doing that as much now.”

Mr Handford said despite a tough season for some farmers, after 2009 the local cropping industry would be in for a 'buoyant time once we get over the flood and get back to our normal weather'.

Ben Martin also feels that while local farm incomes might not rise dramatically in the near future, it isn't all doom and gloom.

“This is just another hurdle. Agriculture is always challenging, but rewarding,” he said. “Farmers are a resourceful bunch who know there is no good whinging about things - and they are always questioning us for the latest information.”

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