National Foods will sell its cheese processing plants in South Australia and close its two Victorian plants within three years. The moves were announced as part of a $132 million investment in Tasmania, aimed at rationalising the company’s cheese making business.
Ironically, as thousands of consumers were panic buying fast-disappearing supplies of milk and fresh produce from supermarket shelves, many flood-bound dairy farmers were being forced to empty their vats on the ground.
Virtually all the dairy regions across the southern half of Queensland and northern NSW have been hit hard with torrential rain and flooding with tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure and stock and productivity losses.
The Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation (QDO) has been deep in negotiations with State and Federal Governments for an assistance and recovery package before the latest wave of flooding hit the south east.
QDO chief executive Adrian Peake was scrambling to keep emergency services functioning while evacuating the organisation’s head office on January 12.The electricity supply was about to be cut off as flood waters began engulfing Brisbane’s central business district.
Priorities were to keep an emergency hotline and the organisation website operational as the first port of call for farmers seeking information.Just across the raging Brisbane River, the State’s biggest milk processing plant – operated by Parmalat – was also in trouble. Access roads across the city from all directions were cut, starving the factory of milk supply with the river torrent threatening inundation.
Some farmers, particularly in Central Queensland and on the Darling Downs, have been living with the flood crisis for weeks with successive flood peaks after major rain events.
Australian Dairy Farmers president Wes Judd, who has relocated his family farming enterprise to the Western Darling Downs, was bracing for yet another surge in the Condamine River, this time fed from floods all the way back to its headwaters in the Warwick district.
The Judds had about 60 heifers swept away by floodwaters in December, relocating many of them on properties along the Condamine, up to 40km downstream.The dramas facing the industry escalated dramatically with a huge rainfall event swamping a region stretching from the Wide Bay-Burnett over the NSW border in the second week of January.
Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, recorded a phenomenal 757mm in the seven days to January 12.Flash floods swept through the Toowoomba central business district with water pouring westward towards the saturated Maranoa system and cascading down the dividing range engulfing communities in the headwaters of the Lockyer Valley.
QDO president Brian Tessmann says he was just beginning to assess the damage on his South Burnett property where he registered 260mm in a day and a half at the peak of the deluge.
The region which has been in drought for most of the past decade is now awash. “I still can’t get around a lot of my place, but at least I am functioning,” Tessmann says.
“My last milk pickup was three nights ago, and I am rotating my vats so we will only tip out milk as we have to.”
He was hopeful Parmalat would soon be able to resume pickups with milk directed to the factory at Nambour on the Sunshine Coast if Brisbane remains isolated.“We’ve had reports of people missing cattle being up in planes and helicopters searching for kilometers around their properties.
“Some places have lost electricity and there have been milking sheds inundated. It quickly becomes very serious if cows cannot be milked.”QDO vice president Ross McInnes counted himself among the luckier farmers with his property between Ipswich and Boonah flooded, but not disastrously.There will be many long-term impacts for the Queensland industry, he says.
A lot of farmers had lost crops of silage and in coastal regions it would now be too late to plant any summer crops.
“We planted some lablab just before the big rain set in. We’ve got about 100 acres [40ha] of corn due to chop for silage with water running through half of it.” He says there could be serious animal health issues including foot problems from cows standing around in mud and mastitis.
“A lot of animals are going to need to be culled and I don’t think there are enough heifers around to replace them,” McInnes says.“Recovery for the industry will be a long haul once farmers get over the short term emergency issues.”