Mick Zimmermann wants to produce more lucerne, but he said he is scared to irrigate because of the cost of electricity. Two years ago his electricity bill was $3,500 per month. It's now $11,000 and he's doing half as much irrigating.
Mick Zimmermann wants to produce more lucerne, but he said he is scared to irrigate because of the cost of electricity. Two years ago his electricity bill was $3,500 per month. It's now $11,000 and he's doing half as much irrigating. Zhanae Conway-Dodd

WATCH: Electricity bill comes as a shock for Jambin farmer

JAMBIN farmer Mick Zimmermann wants to produce more lucerne but is scared to irrigate because of the associated costs of electricity.

Two years ago Mr Zimmermann's electricity bill was $3500 per month. Since then it has rocketed to $11,000, despite him having reduced his irrigation activity by half.

 

 

Mr Zimmermann said he is receiving 20 calls a day from drought-affected farmers looking to buy lucerne but he only has a six-week supply left in the shed and while he has 75 head of his own cattle to feed, he is holding back on production because of his power bill.

The only option made available for Mr Zimmermann to reduce his power costs is the offer from his energy supplier to provide free readings on his five electricity metres.

Deputy Leader of the Nationals Bridget McKenzie and Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd toured Mr Zimmermann 222ha property last Thursday to get a better understanding of the struggles he faces as a Central Queensland farmer.

Mr Zimmermann said he would ideally like to see the current power bill halved.

"Bring it back to what the prices were two, three years ago, that would make this operation a lot more sustainable," he said.

During winter this year Mr Zimmermann was forced to raise his lucerne prices from $12 a bale plus GST to $14 a bale in order to cover the rising costs of production.

Mr Zimmermann said for the past 10 years he had absorbed the rising electricity costs rather than pass them onto his customers.

"As the prices have skyrocketed we haven't been able to pass that cost onto the consumer buying the hay," he said.

 

"We were charging $12 a bale plus GST in 2008 and we've only just put that up because no one will pay the extra money.

"It was only because it was winter and lucerne was so scarce that we could put it up."

Mr Zimmermann said many producers were also undercutting the market which made it impossible to raise the selling price of hay.

Being in a drought-declared area Mr Zimmermann said he thought he would be able to apply for a grant or subsidy to help offset high electricity prices but the help he found was close to useless.

"The money we could be saving from that increase in power could be going to other infrastructure or we could be spending a lot more money on hay to help these drought-stricken farmers," he said.

"We can irrigate more country. It's just the power bill that is really hurting us."

Farming life

 

 

MICK Zimmerman was born into farming, one of nine children.

Born and bred in the Barossa Valley he set out on a working holiday at a winery in Western Australia when he was 19 years old.

"That is where I met my wife, we got married and we spent seven years over there," he said.

 

Mick Zimmermann wants to produce more lucerne but is scared to irrigate because of the cost of electricity.
Mick Zimmermann wants to produce more lucerne but is scared to irrigate because of the cost of electricity. Zhanae Conway-Dodd

Mr Zimmermann and his wife, who was also from a farming background, made their way to Albany where they bought an old caravan and decided to travel around Australia.

"We decided to do the eastern side of Australia and my eldest daughter Rachael was only 12 months at the time," he said.

It wasn't long before the Zimmerman family made their way to the Callide Valley.

"We got to Biloela in 1980. I just walked around town and had five job offers overnight and here we are 20-odd years later," Mr Zimmermann said.

"We had nothing apart from our car and caravan and we just worked around the properties here."

Mr Zimmermann landed a job "just down the road" from where he lives now, managing a place.

He and his family stayed there for six years before buying the little farm across the road.

"The little farm across the road came up for sale. We had enough money put aside for the legal fees and deposit so we went to the banks and a few wouldn't look at us but we eventually found one that would and we got a loan," he said.

"I used the fellow's gear that I was working for to run our place and that's how it all started off."

 

POWER PROBLEM: Mick Zimmerman shows Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd and Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie around his Jambin property.
POWER PROBLEM: Mick Zimmerman shows Member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd and Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie around his Jambin property. Zhanae Conway-Dodd

Within four years Mr Zimmermann and his wife bought another property and got into the chaffing business and they were turning over $400,000 a year.

"We were supplying chaff to the racehorse people in Rockhampton. It grew so big that in the end we ended up buying this place where we are now back in 2005 and we were employing another person full-time," he said.

"Things were sort of going on really well we thought."

Mr Zimmermann and his family bought another property near Capella where they stayed for four years before selling the property due to hard circumstances.

They made their way back to their Jambin property and had to start over again.

"Down the track we wanted to get a bigger place and expand and let the kids carry on here," Mr Zimmermann said.

"When we first started farming we could find our repayments easily and things were good but the cost of everything is so great now to start again and get the momentum to get going is hard."

The Zimmermans were dealt another heavy blow in 2008 when Mr Zimmermann was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

He said while some times had proven to be tough they had all kept going.

"I am a survivor and I am still going," he said.

Key points

  • Two years ago Mick Zimmermann's electricity bill was $3500 per month.
  • His electricity bill is now $11,000 and he's doing half as much irrigating.
  • He wants to produce more lucerne but fears about the cost of electricity are preventing him from irrigating.
  • Mr Zimmermann has considered donating lucerne to drought-affected farmers but the high cost of electricity has ruled that out.

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