More than 50 dairy farms have been affected by bushfires tearing through Australia's east coast, with fears milk supplies could be compromised.
The fires have swept through major dairy areas including East Gippsland in Victoria and the NSW south coast, where many farmers are already struggling from years of drought and competitive milk prices.
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,” Mr Inall said.
He said many farmers were unable to collect milk due to power outages, while road closures limited access to fodder, water and diesel.
In the northern Victorian town of Cudgewa, there have been reports of thousands of litres of milk being dumped because tankers have been unable to access properties.
“Logistically it is a nightmare but farmers are doing everything they possibly can to get their businesses back on track,” Mr Inall said.
“No question this has put a layer of enormous pressure on a sector that was already deeply distressed.
“The number of livestock deaths in NSW has surpassed 6200, while early figures suggest 1100 livestock across dairy, beef and sheep have died in Victoria's Upper Murray and East Gippsland.
“It's devastating — if you lose your stock you lose your livelihood, so the priority is to get in there and assist farmers in assessing the damage,” Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said.
“There will be further stock losses to report, but the good news is there are many stock that have survived.”
Both NSW and Victorian governments are providing struggling farmers with emergency fodder and water, animal care, livestock assessment and stock euthanasia and burial where necessary.
“We have to make sure that we are looking after the animal welfare concerns, whether that is immediate treatment, feed, water, whether it's more appropriate to be seeking agistment or indeed people making the decision to move that livestock to market,” Ms Symes said.