Farmers demand energy action

By Dairy News

SOUTH-WEST VICTORIAN dairy farmers are demanding government action to secure adequate and aff ordable energy for the region. Nearly 100 farmers, councillors and business people met in Warrnambool to discuss how skyrocketing energy prices and reliability fears were impacting on their businesses.

The Wannon UDV branch hosted the meeting and has vowed to keep up the pressure on governments. While recognising the importance of clean energy, the branch adopted a motion demanding state and federal governments collaborate and act to reduce the cost of energy and provide infrastructure that makes adequate electricity available at reasonable cost to all areas.

Wannon UDV branch president Bruce Knowles said Australia’s power costs had gone from the cheapest to most expensive in the world in just 15 years.

“This is a disaster for the economy and it looks like going from bad to worse,” Mr Knowles said.

Dairy farmers were being forced to buy generators to not only secure power but because they were becoming more cost effective, he said.

Mr Knowles said the UDV wanted governments and power infrastructure owners to generate equitable services for the region.

“Poles and wire infrastructure in the southwest is not in good shape but to survive we need affordable cheap electricity and modern, reliable infrastructure and accessibility to three-phase power.”

Basil Ryan, who moved the resolution, said the meeting had heard how the region was coping with “third world” power supplies.

“It’s important to keep the momentum going to fix this,” Mr Ryan said.

Farmers were warned an extra $3760 could be added to their average $18800 power bills this year and they might also have to foot the bill with processors’ extra costs likely to lead to lower farm gate milk prices.

Dairy Australia policy strategy manager Claire Miller told the meeting the current situation was the result of a “perfect storm” of policy failures over the past 10 to 15 years. Ms Miller said there were no “short-term silver bullets” but there could be opportunities for government intervention, market-based interventions to lower prices and farmers could undertake energy efficiency initiatives.

Dairy Australia commercial research and analysis manager Norman Repacholi highlighted the importance of dairy farming to the economy and in generating employment.

“Dairy farms are the seed of regional prosperity and it is important to recognise the difference one farm can make,” Mr Repacholi said.

“The average farm in south-west Victoria will reinvest $473000 back into the community and create 3.6 jobs.”

Great South Coast Food and Fibre Council’s executive officer Tony Ford said the region was now number two in Australia for farm gate output and was growing at eight per cent a year, substantially higher than five per cent growth achieved in the rest of the country.

“However, our share of public investment is low compared to other regions,” Mr Ford said.

“We have latent capacity in the region to grow.”

Mr Ford said there was a strong case for public investment as the benefit-to-cost ratio for investing in three-phase power was 1.94. State Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell said she was worried about the impact of power problems on farmers.

“Safe, reliable and affordable power is a basic need,” Mrs Britnell said.

The Wannon branch combined with the Camperdown and Colac regions of the UDV to run the event.