“NOT much has changed” laments Bega sheep and beef farmer Noel Watson.
Mr Watson is reading from a 1929 issue of the Bega District News in which a letter to the editor written by his grandfather William speaks to the financial hardships experienced by men of the land.
Mr Watson said his grandfather raised a family of 12 on his dairy farm at Pericoe – “everyone was dairy in those days”.
After growing up in a dairy-focused family, Mr Watson has branched out to a 250ha property north of Bega on the Snowy Mountains Hwy.
He farms around 100 head of beef cattle and 600 sheep.
While the supermarket price wars over milk have been of particular concern for dairy farmers, Mr Watson said the future was just as dim for other primary producers.
“I was really disappointed with the deregulation of the dairy industry – it was done for no good reason,” he said.
“But it goes for all rural commodities. These days we’re just struggling.”
Mr Watson said smaller producers are being squeezed out of the market as multi-national corporations Coles and Woolworths continue to expand their dominance.
“I’m anti Coles and Woolies to a degree. The government doesn’t seem to feel big enough to do anything.
“They have too big a share of the market and have screwed us down a bit.
“Small saleyard stuff is slowly getting squeezed out.”
Mr Watson, like many other primary producers, says the prices paid for his animals barely make it a worthwhile enterprise, but those cheap costs aren’t always passed on to consumers.
“I feel sorry for the consumers,” he said.
“We get penalised as producers and you as consumers don’t see the benefit of it.
“Where does it go?”
Mr Watson said he held his own sale in recent months where “good cross-bred ewes” netted him $69, but straight merinos made $40.
“And there’s only two kilogram bodyweight difference.
“At the recent sales at Cooma sheep made from $4 to $90 – the top lambs are only making $3 a kilogram.
“I know there are big costs in abattoirs and refrigeration, but what can you get in the supermarkets for $3 these days?”
Mr Watson is holding true to a family tradition of working the land, but he is unsure what the future holds - for his own farm as well as the primary industries as a whole.
“I don’t know what the future holds for these guys,” he said as he spread feed pellets for his sheep during the recent heatwave.
“We can jump up and down all we want, but it’s the government that should be looking at helping small business, not multi-nationals.
“Something has to change or in the long run people will just walk off the land.”