22 December 2017

Blackouts leave farmers in the dark

Powerful storms buffeted the state on Tuesday evening, leaving a trail of darkness behind them. Dairy farmers in northern Victoria were left without power for more than 24 hours, with cows suffering from two missed milkings in a row, while power was restored to towns around them.

One dairy farmer in northern Victoria missed a milking for the first time in 35 years due to the blackout. The increasing prevalence of blackouts, compounded by the growing delays restoring power afterward, is creating apprehension about the future.

Adam Jenkins, United Dairyfarmers of Victoria President, rebuked the crisis line’s response to farmers’ inquiries.

“To tell a dairy farmer that they won’t be getting power back until the nearby towns have their air-conditioning on is just not good enough. Power is an essential service. If the government can’t guarantee reliable supply, and farmers have to put in diesel generators, then there should be a subsidy to offset that cost.”

The unreliability of energy supply has been an increasing theme over the past few years. Farmers are questioning whether there is underinvestment in essential services, and what steps are being taken to remedy the situation.

 Mr Jenkins also highlighted the significant cost that is often overlooked in media coverage of farm blackouts.

“It’s an issue of animal welfare, in this heat lactating cows can drink up to two hundred litres a day. Without power, we can’t pump any water which is real animal welfare concern.”

“Combined with the distress, discomfort and physical toll from missing or delaying a milking, it can take some time for cows to fully recover.”

“It also has a food quality risk component – the physical toll on the cow brings up the cell count in the milk. We have robust systems in place to ensure the quality of milk going to market, but it’s an indicator of problems that could grow if the energy reliability question is left untended.”

Energy reliability and cost is an ongoing issue. While farmers are resourceful and eager to improve their energy efficiency on farm, this still requires reliable supply. Efficiency is important, but the most efficient system in the world still can’t function in a blackout.

Media Contacts:

Adam Jenkins, UDV President, 0437 008 806

Sarah Martin, VFF Media Community Officer, 0409 739 121