Dairy farmers demand action on energy

By Rick Bayne

SOUTH-WEST VICTORIAN dairy farmers are demanding government action to secure adequate and affordable energy for the region.

Nearly 100 farmers, councillors and business people met in Warrnambool last month to discuss how sky-rocketing energy prices and reliability fears are impacting on their businesses.

The Wannon branch of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV), based in south west Victoria, 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.

UDV Wannon 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 are being forced to buy generators to not only secure power but because they’re becoming more cost effective, he added.

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

“Poles and wire infrastructure in the south west is not in good shape but to survive we need affordable cheap electricity and modern, reliable infrastructure and accessibility to 3-phase power,” he said.

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 $18 800 power bills this year and they might also have to foot the bill with processors’ extra costs likely to lead to lower farmgate milk prices.

Dairy Australia Manager of Policy Strategy Claire Miller told the meeting the current situation was the result of a “perfect storm” of policy failures over the past 10–15 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 $473 000 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 farmgate output and was growing at 8 per cent per year, substantially higher than 5 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 3-phase power was 1.94.