The dairy industry has reacted swiftly to the plight of farmers affected by the recent fires and while the threat of further firs continue significant resources have been marshaled to assist the recovery process.
While milk factories and government agencies are still completing the task of establishing contact with all affected farms, the best estimates at this stage are that just over 40 dairy farms in the prime dairy and grazing country around Longwarry North, Labertouche and Jundivik saw significant fire incursion over the weekend, with smaller numbers from the earlier but on-going fire events in the Boolara, Mirboo North, Yinnar and Churchill region.
Beyond Gippsland, some dairy farms in the upper reaches of the Kiewa Valley have also been affected but further along that valley where there is a big concentration of dairy farms the fire has threatened but so far remains stalled in the ranges behind Gundowering.
Damage to farms in the Longwarry North complex has been remarkably light given the extreme conditions over the weekend with only small numbers of stock and dwellings reported lost.
But the damage to fences, power infrastructure, pasture and stored fodder has been significant and widespread with farms left blackened and without the means for containing or feeding stock.
Even so the reports suggest few stock had been lost which was a remarkable feat in the conditions, with most able to contain stock on irrigated pasture or summer crop paddocks through the fire event.
The loss of electricity has played havoc with milking routines with some farms cut off and unable to milk from Saturday till Tuesday. In other cases farmers have worked together to share milking facilities and/or portable generators with milking routines timed for whenever these have been available.
Tanker access to collect milk was a problem in the immediate aftermath of the weekend but as of Tuesday tanker routines had been restored for all but a very few farms.
With no power to run refrigerated vats a lot of the milk produced since the weekend has had to be discarded and even some collected by tankers has had to be discarded because of temperature compliance issues. But Dairy Food Safety Victoria chief executive Anne Astin said she understood farmers would still be paid for those deliveries.
The most immediate issue for farmers in these areas had been to locate and then contain stock on properties where all fencing had been destroyed.
Feed and water are also an immediate issue although reports suggest most farmers have been able to secure enough feed to get through the first few days and farmer orgainsations have been quick to call for fodder donations and set up distribution centres.
*Extract from full report to appear in Stock & Land, February 12.
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