LIVING IN HOPE: David Free tries to remain optimistic as the toll of drought wears on him.
LIVING IN HOPE: David Free tries to remain optimistic as the toll of drought wears on him.

Family farms facing extinction as drought grips region

THEY'RE battling through the harshest drought they've ever seen but this cattle farmer worries it's a fight they've lost for the younger generation of farmers.

In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the average age of a farmer was 56, a whopping 17 years older than the average worker.

As the dry rages on, it means the physical toll on farmers is only more apparent.

Eighty-year-old Womina cattle producer David Free was considering retirement but then found himself up at the crack of dawn each day to ensure his remaining cattle could feed on whatever green he could find.

"I had corn stubble but they ate it all up. I had hay in the shed but they ate it all up. Now I'm grazing them on the road," he said.

"My wife says I'm working too hard but these cattle need to be sold."

Despite trying his hardest to keep his farm afloat, Mr Free recently had to destock.

"I've been putting off selling these for a month now, hoping the market will improve, but you just have to bite the bullet and take what's on offer," he said.

Mr Free worried the market price would only continue to plummet, leaving desperate farmers even more heartbroken as they struggled to afford the feed to keep selling stock at a premium.

"It's on a downward trend. Most of my farming friends have already sold off the biggest percentage of saleable animals," he said.

"A lot of animals aren't saleable, they're in pretty poor shape."

"They're not weighing well because grain is about $600 a tonne and they can clean up a tonne of grain fairly quickly. It's another load. Another load.

"Normally these young cattle would sell like hotcakes but the market's just flat."

Mr Free said as yarding sales continued to plateau, it was a grim sign of what was to come.

He said once it did rain again, there might not be any family farms left standing.

"Problem is, we're all getting older," he said.

"I don't know whether (farming after the drought) is on the cards. I'm soon to be 81. Most of these cattle guys are the old ones and most are primary producers.

"I don't think a young person could afford to go into farming now. You have to own the land and the equipment, and there's no guaranteed return like there should be."

Farming is all Mr Free has known and he is clinging to hope the drought will break.

"You just hope it's going to rain before Christmas. You live in hope. Hope things will get better," he said.