With fire and drought ravaging Australia, Get it hit the road to visit one of our incredible farm families and investigated how we can all lend a hand. Writes Kathleen Loxton
Farming is in the blood
Allora feels like a world wind away from the Gold Coast, yet it’s only about two and a half hours from us. Gone is the lush, tropical environment, instead there is a landscape that is equally vital and intrinsic to the identity of Australia: our farmland. Out here there is cracked, baked earth as far as the eye can see, and there’s no green pastures.
We met with Norco farmers and tight-knit family, the Mullins, and spoke with Naomi (accompanied by her beautiful son, Ned), who shared with us the history of the land and taught us about the realities of farming in Australia today.
Farming is in the blood of the Mullins family. They are salt of the earth folk who, like all our farmers, are at the mercy of nature to provide for their livelihoods. It takes a certain type of resilience and faith to work the land.
Naomi explained her husband’s farming legacy, saying, “Andrew’s heritage is Irish on his dad’s side and English/Scottish on his mum’s side. On his mum’s side they are the fifth generation of dairy farmers in the Goomburra Valley [Queensland]. The brothers, Andrew and Chris, bought and continued to grow the family farm in 2010.”
Exploring the area, you can feel the connection the family has to the farm. It feels like a home. The tractors and sheds are part of the furniture, and the cows beloved members of the family — plenty even have names that have been passed down through generations.
WHEN SHOPPING, LOOK FOR DAIRY PRODUCTS THAT ARE BOTH AUSTRALIAN OWNED AND MADE WHERE POSSIBLE. MANY BRANDS YOU’LL FIND AREN’T ACTUALLY 100 PER CENT AUSTRALIAN!
THE REALITIES OF THE LAND
One of the biggest effects of the drought for the Mullins family is the impact it has on sourcing feed for their animals. Because of the drought the Mullins are having to purchase feed (trucked from interstate) that they would usually be able to grow themselves, and costs are double to triple what they would normally be. “We have nearly used up all our stored feed that we had aside for this sort of situation,” Naomi said.
Another challenge for the Mullins’ farm is having enough water for crops and animals. Naomi described, “Water allocation is back to 60 per cent for irrigation, but we aren’t using it as we are saving that for stock water. The stock goes through about 100 to 120 litres of water per day, per cow (the milking herd).”
To put this in perspective, when we receive rain on the Gold Coast, it’s easy to imagine our farmers get plenty. However, this is not
the case, even if they aren’t far away. As Naomi put it, “Rainfall was 240mm for last year, with 160mm in the first three months and only 80mm for the rest of the year . Our normal annual rainfall is 650mm! That’s a huge difference.”
Sadly, as a consequence the family had to sell a few truckloads of their cows due to the critical need to preserve feed, now they are left with a few hundred. Even amongst the struggle, though, the family’s connection to the land and their animals is paramount, and
it’s clear the animals and quality produce are still their top priority.
The hard work doesn’t stop there, even a normal day on the farm is made up of long, tough hours. Naomi ran through an everyday routine with us: “An average day on the farm is Andrew getting up at 3:15 each morning to head down the track to the dairy where he sets the dairy up and gets the cows in to be milking by 4:00 a.m. Milking takes about three hours with the clean-up process afterwards. This is repeated at 3:00 in the afternoon as well. The time in-between milkings isn’t for rest, that’s for the continual maintenance and general farming that has to happen as well. (Feeding, cattle work, tractor work, irrigating our small crop of 30 acres of corn, etc.) A day normally finishes after the sun has gone down. Summer is a little different as we have more light.”
HOW CAN THE COMMUNITY SUPPORT?
Using your purchasing power wisely is the main way you can help families like the Mullins, who we owe everything from the food on our table to the milk in our morning cappuccino. Actually, it’s as simple as picking up a bottle of Norco milk or enjoying Norco cheese on crackers.
When shopping, look for dairy products that are both Australian owned and made where possible. Many brands you’ll find aren’t actually 100 per cent Australian! For example, it was reported by ABC in November, 2019, that “China Mengniu Dairy will pay Japanese beverage giant Kirin $600 million to take over its Lion Dairy and Drinks portfolio… The Lion brands include several iconic brands including Dairy Farmers, Masters and Pura milk.” In another report the ABC stated that this also included Farmers Union Iced Coffee and Yoplait yogurt.
Furthermore, with road closures limiting access to fodder and fuel in many areas, the ABC also reported in January (2020) that, according to the New South Wales Farmers Association, “Consumers could see a shortage of flavoured milks, yoghurt and custards as a direct result of the drought and fires.” The situation is dire, and we need to do the right thing for our farmers and honour their hard work.
Speaking of Norco, Naomi said, “Our relationship with Norco is great, as they continue to show support in this terrible time through helping us source feed. Also, a benefit of being a Norco supplier is they have shares that you can only acquire as a Norco supplier (no outside people can get them) — this means that all the profits are going back to the farmers. Norco is 100 per cent farmer owned and Australian owned, which is amazing too.”
What’s incredible, is that the Mullins still find time to pay this support forward and give back to their community — they are one of the many farming families across Australia that are the backbone of their small-town communities. “Five local ladies, including myself, organise a high tea to raise money for charities that benefit our community. Last year we raised money for Rural Aid and LifeFlight and were also able to give a donation to a local community van, which helps prepare back to school packs for children in the Allora district. We were lucky enough to have Norco as a major sponsor,” noted Naomi.
Naomi is also a photographer and uses this talent to bring happiness to drought-stricken families in her community, giving them a moment to create happy memories through family photos. Her drive is clear: “What I love about doing photography is making people feel a little bit of joy in all the craziness of life in times like this. I also like to share on my Instagram page our days and photos of Ned doing what he loves.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
So, what’s Naomi and Andrew’s hope for Ned and their future? “Our hopes for our little man, Ned [who turned two on 18 January], is that he continues the love that he has for the farm now. He gets such a smile as we drive down to the farm from our house. We talk about the cows and tractors. ‘Tractor’ is his favourite word. He has to have a look-in and help with whatever is happening. Calf feeding is another part he finds entertaining. We don’t want to pressure or force this in the future… he will grow and develop his own hopes and dreams.”
Together, we can make this a reality. Shop consciously, every purchase makes a difference.
To support, visit: facebook.com/AlloraHighTea/
Keep up with Naomi via Facebook (@dnmphotography83).
For more information, visit: norcofoods.com.au
Photography: thanks to Norco, Naomi Mullins and Kirsty Davis