Long road to recovery for dairy sector after floods

The recent floods have placed enormous mental and financial strain on farmers.

Flooding across NSW and Queensland, like other disasters from recent years, have highlighted challenges facing the dairy industry.

Increasing instances of fire, drought and flooding could see insurance premiums rise to untenable levels for some farmers. These risks need to be addressed in a long-term manner, as implications carry on long after acute events.

Dairy farmers across NSW and south-east Queensland face a long road to recovery.

Almost three years of stress from fires, drought, and pandemic-related workforce issues have affected farmers in all industries across Australia.

The recent floods have added to this pressure, placing enormous mental and financial strain on farmers.

At least 290 farms have been affected. Accounts of damage and losses include 200-head herds wiped out, infrastructure and machinery swept away by floodwater, kilometres of fencing ripped from the earth - with winter crops, fertiliser and fodder being collateral damage.

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Stories of heroism abound, of farmers working tirelessly to rescue people and livestock.

In the aftermath though, it is keeping herds fed that is proving to be a daily challenge.

There has been a significant toll on animal health, with conditions such as lameness and mastitis becoming prevalent.

Exhausted, distressed and undernourished, cows that would usually produce 20-30 litres daily are giving barely a trickle.

Cold, wet weather has scythed its way through calf populations.

Rescuing heifers and cows sunk deep in mud is a daily event. Costs are likely to be in the range of hundreds of millions.

Many farms are not only experiencing stock feed issues but fuel shortages, power, phone and internet outages.

Farmer welfare and mental health is a huge concern.

After prolonged strain, there is a real risk of farmers leaving the industry.

Now, more than ever, our beloved northern industry needs to know that we 'have its back'.

Various government assistance has been announced, which Australian Dairy Farmers will continue to advocate for.

Our priority is ensuring farmers have the support they need to get back on their feet, as they navigate the long tail of mental hardship, cow health issues and financial strain that has followed these floods.

A hotline has been set up for farmers to request emergency fodder, aerial surveillance and veterinary assistance. Emergency fodder distribution centres have been set up in Casino, Alstonville, Grafton and Coraki. Reimbursement for emergency fodder freight has been made available by the Rural Assistance Authority. Need for Feed, a volunteer service coordinated by Lions International, is also delivering fodder to affected famers.

Any rise in prices for dairy foods on retail shelves at this time may likely be a necessity for ensuring dairy farmers make it through these challenges and stay on their land with their mental health intact.

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Moving forward, we recognise that insurance will be a challenge. Not just for those recently affected, but for our entire industry.

Australian Dairy Farmers are working on this issue with representatives from the insurance industry.

At meetings of the National Coordination Mechanism, attended by the Hon Bridget McKenzie, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience, and the Director General of Emergency Management Australia, Joe Buffone, Australian Dairy Farmers has represented the national dairy industry's interests.

If retail prices for dairy products increase, one of the reasons will be the floods.

If this happens, please tell everyone that the increase is an absolutely necessity to ensure flood-affected farmers survive this disaster.

This article was supplied by Australian Dairy Farmers.

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