Dairy farmers hit by fierce bushfires in southwest Victoria are preparing for one of the most critical times of the agricultural year amid air quality concerns.
And if they don’t overcome the devastation, it could mean a spike in milk prices later in 2018.
Fires across Penshurst, Terang and Cobden have been burning for more than a week, destroying homes and sheds and claiming more than four thousand livestock.
The region, which produces about a quarter of Australia’s dairy supplies has lost about 1000 milking cows and at least 50 dairy farms have been directly impacted.
“It’s the first time since Ash Wednesday (1983) we’ve seen a bushfire go through agriculture areas to such an extent,” state president of United Dairyfarmers Adam Jenkins told AAP on Wednesday.
He said many of the cows lost were specially bred as part of a project spanning decades.
“You can put a dollar figure on them, around $1500 to $2000 each, but you can’t actually replace them, they’ve been bred for generations for their speciality,” Mr Jenkins added.
While the recovery effort is in full swing, farmers are shifting their focus to preparing for winter by sowing and fencing their paddocks.
“The next six to eight weeks are a really critical time and if we don’t get it right it has the potential to affect the spring when milk flow is at its peak,” Mr Jenkins said.
“This is really the hardest part, the costliest too, because for some they’ve lost 80 per cent of their pasture then it could cost up to $80,000 to replace.”
Mr Jenkins said most farmers were insured, but not for their pasture.
If pastures aren’t prepared for spring, it could see a rise in milk prices.
“I don’t think you’ll see milk prices rise immediately, but if we’re not prepared for spring that’s when we’d see milk prices rise,” Mr Jenkins said.
There are also concerns that smoke from the nearby Cobrico peat fire could affect livestock in the area.
Residents – particularly the elderly – within a one kilometre radius of the smoulder, have been evacuated but most livestock remains.
“The advice is that livestock should generally be moved away when possible,” an Emergency Management Victoria spokeswoman said.
“But generally animals tolerate it (the smoke) more.”
By: Benita Kolovos