Processors offer support to fire-affected suppliers

By Dairy News

THE JENNINGS family haven’t had to cry over spilt milk as a result of the Bruthen bushfire.

Their Saputo field officer assured them they would still be paid for dumping 35 000 litres of milk, their main livelihood, after bushfires prevented access for the pick-up tanker.

Saputo communications manager Debbie Jones confirmed with Dairy News Australia that payment to dairy farmers was assured.

The Jennings family — Peter and Sue, son Andrew, son-in-law Adam Hasler with daughter, Ingrid — prepared their farm for bushfire impacts in early December, after a fire began in mountainous terrain to their north in November.

After three-and-a-half years of drought, the pasture is fairly short on most of their 192ha dairy farm and 110ha of outblocks.

There is 130 acres of irrigation under lateral sprays, from which they harvest silage.

The milking herd is 400 head. The dairy has a 10 000 litre vat, so with production at 7000 litres per day, the farm is on daily pick-up.

The family and workers prepared their fire plan in early December.

“In mid-December, we made sure the 1000 litre fire fighting unit was on the ute and working,” Mr Jennings said.

“We have a 6000 litre water truck, so we kept that filled and ready with 5000 litre. On December 30, we sat it near the dairy.

“We parked the machinery outside the shed and we have a foot valve system in the nearby Tambo River, as a back-up.

“We had containers of water around the house and garden for spot fires and we kept clean the roofs and gutters on the sheds and house.”

Cattle were put in a paddock where they could run around, in case of spot fires.

“Everyone’s got their own threat from bushfire,” Mr Jennings said.

“I think we had to be more alert for spot-fires than a fire front.”

He patrolled throughout the day and night of December 30, as fires broke out on neighbouring farms and in local communities.

A spot-fire put paid to 2ha of their farm.

“In our worst scenario, we would retreat to the dairy, because it’s all concrete,” Mr Jennings said.

“You can eat breakfast in the dairy, but you can’t milk cows in the kitchen.”

As it was, the major problem they had to deal with was the product of 10 milkings, which were drained daily into the effluent pond.

“The milk truck, even with a permit, wasn’t allowed in,” Mr Jennings said.

“Saputo will pay us for the dumped milk, but it’s such a waste. We shouldn’t be doing this.

“The milk made a fair old pong in the dam, but it’s all gone now.”

He is dealing with animal health issues as a result of the fire.

“I think it’s the stress of smoke and heat felt by the cows,” Mr Jennings said.

“At the moment we do have a bit of a rise in the cell count, nearly 100 000 in the last week.

“We’re hand stripping the teats.”

Ms Jones said Saputo suppliers affected by bushfires were in touch with the processor through field officers.

“We are donating dairy products to affected areas through FoodBank Australia,” she said.

Saputo has also set up a fundraising appeal in support of the Australian Red Cross, matching dollar-for-dollar every financial donation made by Saputo employees.

Bega Cheese chair Max Roberts said the processor’s milk loss because of dumped milk was quite small compared to overall production.

Bega Cheese has lost about 700 000 to 800 000 litres of milk that’s been dumped on farm, in a milk pool of about one billion litres.

The main reason for dumping milk has been lack of road access by trucks to pick up farmers’ main livelihood.

But he said the loss would not have a major impact on supply; although the stock market had responded by downgrading the company’s share value.

He said the biggest challenge for farmers was ensuring a reliable power supply, so dairies can operate and cows can be milked.

“In our pickup area, we haven’t lost any cows to the bushfire,” he said.

Fodder donations have also ensured many people have been able to look after their cows.

“Police escorts have been able to provide escort to milk trucks to pick up supply,” he said.

Bega Cheese support to individual farmers is to identify the best value for support — fencing is a priority and a permanent temporary electricity source is the next item on the list.

Some farmers are hopeful large generators will be available from the ADF, along with the skills to connect dairies to this power source.

Robert Miller, Milton, NSW, dairy farmer, (in the Shoalhaven area), produces about 10 per cent of the milk supply to Woolworths in NSW.

After weeks of bushfires burning around his five farms and outblocks up to 300 km away, he is also dealing with a dry herd that is aborting calves, lost and injured heifers and dumping milk.

“Some of the dry herd are aborting calves,” Mr Miller said.

“They’re heat affected and stressed and we’ve got vets helping us.

“We’ve had to euthanise milking cows and heifers that got injured.

“This is despite putting the cows under irrigation to protect them during the southern NSW bushfires.

“We’ve had a lot of country burnt.

“It is unrelenting pressure to deal with on a daily basis. I’d estimate we’ve lost $100 000 of fencing. Two-thirds of farm pastures and fences are burnt.

“We’ve got 240 of 400 heifers locked up and being fed emergency fodder; and the remaining 160 head is running with neighbours’ livestock because there are no fences in the district.”

Mr Miller is sourcing opportunities to sell some of his young cattle to export markets, so he can get some cash for urgent needs.

“I’ve asked supermarkets to raise their price to $1.50/litre to support farmers,” he said.