Farm groups say devastating fires that have torn through two of Australia’s key dairy production areas will cause a further decline in the country’s already decades-low milk production levels.
Shaughn Morgan, CEO of the industry group Dairy Connect, said about 30 to 40 farmers on the NSW South Coast had been affected, with some reporting they had lost the bulk of their livestock.
He said the fires were another stress for an industry already under “enormous pressure” from drought, high feed prices, “unfair” milk supply agreements and, in many instances, farm-gate milk prices that did not cover their costs of production.
Amid these pressures, Australian dairy production fell to less than 9 billion litres last financial year – the lowest volume since 1996 – and Dairy Australia expects production to fall another 3 to 5 per cent this year.
“If we’re not cautious and we continue to lose dairy farmers at the rate that we’ve got, then the amount of milk production will continue to decrease and if it decreases it means we’ll need to source milk elsewhere,” Mr Morgan said. “It questions food security in the long-term.”
The NSW Department of Primary Industries estimates about 3900 head of livestock have been killed or euthanised due to bushfires in the state this summer.
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford said early estimates from Gippsland and northern Victoria were that up to 13,000 beef and dairy cows have been lost to fire, with the heaviest casualties among one- and two-year-old cows.
“They’re our generation for next year’s milk production and the year after, so it’s going to be quite problematic for farmers. It’s going to leave a hole in their long-term planing,” Mr Mumford said.
He said even cows that survived would produce less milk due to the stress of the fires.
Mr Mumford said the fires would have a substantial impact on the national milk pool, but not enough to cause a shortage for consumers. However, he said it would keep a brake on any recovery in national production levels for the next year or longer.
The industry groups said the priority now was to ensure farmers could run generators and milk their cows, and had access to feed where required.
Farm-gate milk prices are at record highs on the back of high global prices and demand and reduced local supply, as farmers are hit with high feed costs and drought.
Shares in Australian dairy giant Bega Cheese fell 9.3 per cent on Monday amid fears over its milk supply and a potential further increase in milk prices.
Source: Thanks smh.com