Lockyer Valley farmer campaigns to beat mental health

A FAMILY AFFAIR: Rebekah and Luke Stock with their children Elisha, Sarah Hayden and Chloe, run a dairy farm in the Lockyer Valley.
A FAMILY AFFAIR: Rebekah and Luke Stock with their children Elisha, Sarah Hayden and Chloe, run a dairy farm in the Lockyer Valley. Angela Ritchie

YOUNG Queensland dairy farmer Luke Stock is leading a campaign to help farmers to beat mental health problems and stay on the land.

At 29, Luke has his eyes set on a lifetime career in dairying but he realises not everyone is enjoying success in the industry.

The Lockyer Valley farmer hopes to launch a new mental health program specifically for dairy farmers.

Father-of-four Luke sees dairying as a lifetime career and his love of the industry has prompted him to do something to counteract negativity.

Luke is the youngest member of the Subtropical Dairy Board and one of just 16 farmers and the only Queenslander in the national Developing Dairy Leaders course.

As part of the course he is developing a policy to tackle rural health and farmer depression.

"I believe each dairy regional development program, beginning in the Subtropical region, should have a mental health expert with a farming background as a contact point for farmers," he said.

"If I was having mental health issues with our farm, I would be reluctant contact someone not connected with the industry. We need someone who has a rapport with farmers so they will open up and get things off their chests."

A fourth generation dairy farmer, Luke said there was a definite need for such a program in the Subtropical Dairy region.

"Many farmers are struggling. We've had some pretty ordinary floods, a bit of drought and difficulties because of our reliance on the domestic milk market," he said.

"There are so many Queensland farmers leaving the industry. You're not just losing the farm and the milk production; you're losing that farmer who has got generations of knowledge to put back into the industry."

"We're losing 80 farms a year in Queensland. We are down to 495 dairy farmers - there were 1500 in 2000. It has been a rapid decline and the industry cannot sustain those sorts of losses."

Luke said $1 a litre milk was affecting the industry but he remained confident that new markets could be sourced, including proposed exports into China.

He wants to bring fresh ideas and a younger perspective to the Subtropical Dairy Board and hopes his development course proposal will lead to funding for on-farm mental health help.

"I love the industry but we have to encourage farmers to continue," he said.

Luke said he and wife Rebekah have no intention of leaving the industry. "We're doing okay. We're happy here and it's a good lifestyle.  You know it is seven days a week rain, hail or shine but you have the opportunity to get away. We enjoy it.

"As far as margins, dairy provides the best return for your land."

Luke says the Legendairy communication initiative to build the profile and reputation of the industry is a great start in turning around attitudes.

"The name itself is so catchy," he said. "The more people know about dairy the better but unfortunately those not in the industry probably don't know enough about it."

"The industry is good to its animals and we are custodians of the land. Whatever we put back into our country we will hopefully reap the rewards."

He says success is based on sustainability and keeping up with technologies. "If you look back three years ago who would have thought we would now have an App for mastitis."

Luke farms with his parents Alan and Dolores at Glenore Grove. Their farm Daloran Jerseys is in the centre of the Lockyer Valley and milks 110-120 Jersey cows on 72 hectares.

The family supplies Paramlat and has been on this farm since 2002.

They have been keen to embrace change and sustainable dairy practices.

In 2006 the farm introduced a feedpad to encourage better utilisation of feed and to reduce wastage.

"We try to get the cows off the paddocks in wet weather," Luke said.  "We have a good dry area to go to."

A stockpile of manure built up over the past five years from the feedpad has been a handy and environmentally friendly addition to soil management.

"We lost quite a lot of dirt through the floods so we had the opportunity to put 300-350 tonnes of compost manure back on the country," Luke said.

"You can really notice the difference in the soil.  It is a valuable resource that is available to us."

Luke said the current season was presenting challenges. "It has been pretty dry but I guess it has to be taken into the account of the climate we live in. We have adapted to cope and we're doing all right."

The local industry's reliance on the fresh milk domestic market is also a challenge exacerbated by $1 a litre sales. "But there are avenues opening up with Norco looking to export into China. There are some market opportunities there if we can make the most of them.

"As a proud Queenslander and Australian I'd much prefer to see our product stay in this country, but unfortunately with the pressures we face up here we have to look at other opportunities to become a generational farmer."

Challenge is party of the landscape for any dairy farmer and Luke and his family are up for it.

"Dairy is a good agricultural industry to be part of," Luke said. "There is so much industry help. If you're stuck on something there are resources to tap into, unlike other agricultural industries.

"The dairy industry is not cut throat. All your neighbours are willing to help you improve your farm."

Topics:  dairy farm dairy industry lockyer valley mental health