Dairy farms on the South Coast are looking beautiful through non-farming eyes.
With black and white cattle scattered around rich green paddocks under a bright blue sky, a casual observer might think there had never been a better time to be a farmer.
This is the deception of a green drought.
The region has had enough rain to keep the grass green but it is sparse and offers little nutrition or substance to a farmer’s livestock.
With no significant rain for about six months, farmers – particularly those not hooked up to the recycled effluent scheme – are buying in feed and trying to make what little they have left last as long as they can.
Stephen King has been farming his family’s property all his life, like his father and grandfather before him.
He’s been through the dry and the wet and while, like most farmers, he prepares for the worst, it’s difficult to know how much feed to stockpile.
His is one of the smaller Shoalhaven farms, milking 130 head, which he said kept his overheads down but also his earning capacity.
Dry spells such as NSW faces quickly erode the financial reserves.
Next week he is hoping for the arrival of a truck laden with $10,000 worth of feed. While that might sound like a lot, he said he would be lucky to make it last three weeks.
“I normally make 600 to 700 round bales of silage. This year, because we haven’t had the growth, I’ve only been able to make 40,” he said.
“I bought my first lot of feed in September at $200 per tonne. For this next lot the price went up to $350 per tonne.
“It’s pretty dry here. I’ve got cracks in the ground three quarters of an inch wide down the back paddock.”
Mr King’s expected delivery of feed depends on it being available.
“A lot of it is going out west and up to Queensland,” he said.
“Out west and in Queensland, they’re really doing it tough.
“For a crop farmer out west, a drought could wipe out $200,000 or $300,000 worth of produce. That puts them under a lot of strain, particularly when it happens two or three years in a row.
“On the coast we usually have pretty reliable rainfall.
“But this recent rain we’ve had was just enough to wash the dust off the grass. It greens it up but there’s no substance in it for the cattle.
“What we need is consistent rain.
“My gut feeling is that we’ll get some good rain in the next six months.
“They say you can make money out of mud but you can’t make it out of dust.”