Dairy farmers are scrambling to save milk supplies while others are tallying significant stock and property losses after severe bushfires swept through the state’s south-west.
At least 10 properties have been destroyed and more than 40,000 hectares burned in the blazes near Warrnambool.
Farmers have lost homes, stock, fences and the grass to feed their surviving cows in bushfires.
But even those who have been unaffected by flames are in danger of being left thousands of dollars out of pocket with electricity cut to their properties.
A Fonterra spokeswoman said the dairy company had assembled an emergency response team to assist its farmers and staff in the area.
The spokeswoman said some Fonterra farmers had lost stock and others could not be reached to retrieve their milk.
“We know there’s power outages out there and once you’ve milked a cow you’ve got to keep the milk at certain temperature, and you need power to do that,” she said.
“Our biggest concern is making sure our people are safe, our staff farmers and their families and communities.
“But then we’ve got to make sure the milk can be collected and we’ve got to get power back as soon as possible.”
The spokeswoman said it was too soon to know the full extent of the damage but said, at this stage, the supply of milk and dairy products would not be affected.
A rural real estate agent in Terang – one of the towns hardest hit by the flames – said the scope of the destruction inflicted upon farmers would be revealed in coming days.
“People have lost houses, livestock, fencing, it’s all still very windy,” he said. “It’s chaos here at moment.”
Victorian Farmers Federation President David Jochinke said while the full extent of the disaster remained unclear, word had been coming in of significant stock and property losses.
He said the fires would hit the dairy industry particularly hard, but the primary concerns at this point were human and animal welfare.
“We are looking at running a fodder drive with the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
Mr Jochinke said the most pressing need would be getting to dairy cattle caught up in the blaze who may be injured, as well as those who are missing out on milking.
“Missing a milking puts a lot of stress on an animal, let alone missing two or more,” he said.
“The other thing will be food. The VFF does emergency relief like this really well and we have helped coordinate fodder drives for events such as this in the past.”
By: Joe Hinchliffe & Benjamin Millar
Source: The Age