North-east dairy farmers hit hard by bushfires

By Geoff Adams

Dairy farmers in north-east Victoria have been battling power outages, diesel shortages, stock losses and transport hold-ups in the fire crisis that has engulfed the region.

There are about 300 farm businesses in the area affected by fires and possibly 30 dairy farms.

Australian Dairy Farmers chief executive David Inall said between 50 and 60 farms had been affected by fires so far, with pastures lost and fences, sheds and other infrastructure damaged.

“It's probably too early to tell what the impact is going to be, but we would expect some reduction in milk production for sure,” he said.

The north-east Victoria fire zone is part of the Murray Dairy region, which has already suffered milk production losses due to the dry conditions.

Murray Dairy chair Karen Moroney lives in Mitta Mitta Valley, not far from the fires, and her own dairy farm is bordered by forest on three sides. They have been working in smoke for weeks.

“I've been trying to reach some of the people in the Upper Murray region but we can't get access and communication is very difficult,” she said.

“We know that Agriculture Victoria has been arranging for burial pits for dead stock.

“Once we can get in to assess the needs, I expect we will be speaking with dairy farmers one-to-one.”

Mrs Moroney encouraged people wanting to help to support established aid organisations, and work with farmer bodies like the VFF which was co-ordinating fodder drops.

She was amazed at the generosity of other farmers and people from the region who had offered to help.

Murray Dairy extension officer Lachlan Barnes said a lot of farmers had lost their fodder and were still unable to account for all of their stock.

Some farmers had not been able to get access to non-milking cattle, which were on out-blocks or at more remote locations.

“There has been some fodder getting through, but good, milking quality hay has been hard to source,” Mr Barnes said.

With fire destroying fences, stock containment was an issue.

Power outages have been common in the affected area, which has impacted milking.

“Diesel has been hard to get because generators have been using quite a lot of fuel,” Mr Barnes said.

In some cases, where milk tankers have been unable to get access, farmers have had to dispose of their milk.

Dairy industry stakeholders have been offering fodder, offering to host ‘parked’ cows and other support. Mr Barnes said there were some generous offers being made.

“Many of our farmers have been under pressure this season, but they've stepped forward to offer help, which is very generous.”

Anyone with dairy-specific help can contact Murray Dairy, but Murray Dairy is also encouraging general support to be directed to established aid agencies which have the networks to deliver the aid.