Like Stanhope itself, the Emmett family farm on the town’s boundary is about to celebrate its centenary.
During that time, dairying has been the cornerstone of both the town and the Emmett family and for young farmer Craig Emmett, the fourth generation to work the land, dairying remains the key to success.
Stanhope has been named the Legendairy Capital of the Murray Dairy region. Craig says the gong is justified.
“Getting the regional title was a little puffing the chest-out moment,” he laughed. “I think we are a pretty good dairy community and we’re proud of it. We’re a dairy town. The main employment in the town is dairy and a lot of the people involved in the bowls club, the footy club, the cricket club are dairy farmers or work with dairy farmers.” Craig has played football for Stanhope for as long as he can remember, including the years when he was at university.
Craig’s great Grandfather, William Emmett, started an orchard on an original solider settlement farm when the town was settled in 1917. Dairy was introduced in the late 1920s.
History plays a big part in farming life when you’ve had nearly a century on the same land, but Craig also has his eye on the future. After school he worked on the farm for a few years before doing his Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of Melbourne and then working as an agronomist for two years in Echuca.
The off-farm experience helped before his return to the land about two years ago. “It was good to see other farmers at work and to get involved in broad acre cropping,” he said. “But I decided I’d prefer to do rather than preach.”
From July this year Craig entered a full three-way partnership on the home farm with his parents Gordon and Lyn. He’s also invested in the industry by buying a neighbouring farm. “I’ve just paid a deposit so I have 114 acres in my own name.”
The new farm adds to the 300 acres of the existing milking property and calf rearing and dry cow farm.
There’s a lot of work to be done on irrigation and pastures to get the new land up to scratch, but Craig is confident that it will be worth the effort. They hope to increase the Jersey stud from about 180 to 240 when the new property is ready.
“We think there’s a reasonable future,” Craig said. “The milk price has been pretty good for the last couple of years. This year is up in the air a bit but there’s been a significant jump in the commodities recently so hopefully we can hit that $6 mark.”
However, there are still challenges, particularly in the water price.
“Water is the number one issue,” Craig said. “The price of buying water is over $200 now and that’s the main challenge. If you don’t have your own permanent water you’ve got to buy it. It’s very difficult to justify spending $200 a megalitre on water but at the same time you can’t do without it.”
Luckily the well-established Emmett farm is mostly covered by a permanent water supply.
“We’re budgeting on buying 100 megalitres this year but we’ve got enough to get us through to after Christmas. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the price comes off a bit and the next month or six weeks is the crucial time for filling storages.”
However, he remains concerned about the amount of water being allocated for non-farming purposes.
The Emmett farm is on the edge of Stanhope, with the main house and dairy actually inside the town boundaries. The town isn’t growing but it’s a close-knit community.
“Most people know each other and get involved in local clubs and organisations. Most small towns are quite community minded because if they don’t they don’t exist.”
At 29 and engaged to school teacher Erin Hopkins, Craig is one of the young guns of the local dairy industry and plans to be involved long-term. “I like being my own boss and being outdoors; that’s the main attraction,” he said.
“You have to milk twice a day and you have busy days but then there are quieter times of the year when you can take it a bit easier… I try to take a holiday at least once a year.”
Craig says the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the reputation and profile of the industry is good for the industry and for the town.
“It’s good promotion; Stanhope has always been a dairy town and hopefully it will continue to be one for the foreseeable future.
“It’s good to have more support and understanding of how important we are to the community. There used to be 130 kids at school, now we’re down to about 30 because there are less than half the dairy farms here.
“It’s not the same as it was when there were more dairy farms around but hopefully it has bottomed out.
Craig sees young farmers as the future.
“The average age is pretty bloody old – a helluva lot older than 29 – but I’ve got quite a few friends around my age getting into their family farms. The future is looking bright.”