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Drought stricken Australian dairy farmers seek south-west Victoria’s greener pastures

ESCAPE DROUGHT: Dairy farmer Greg Anderson has moved from Cobram to the south-west due to drought and pressures on the dairy industry in northern Victoria. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Drought-stricken dairy farmers are eyeing south-west Victoria’s green pastures and moving to the region to save on soaring water costs.

Greg Anderson farmed in Yarraoweyah near Cobram for eight years but pressure from drought led him to move his 300 cows to Cashmore, near Portland, last December.

«As time was going by the pressure for water in the north was really concerning us,» Mr Anderson said.

«With no long-range weather forecast predicting good rains, I said ‘we have to go somewhere it rains’.»

Mr Anderson is among a «steady» movement of farmers coming to the south-west, according to WestVic Dairy executive officer Lindsay Ferguson.

«We don’t know the numbers, but there are an increasing number of farmers moving here from the north, maybe from the southern Riverina, elsewhere in New South Wales, and particularly the Murray irrigation area,» Mr Ferguson said.

Mr Anderson said irrigation costs for north-Victorian farmers had risen from $100 to $800 a megalitre, while for him to break even that price needed to between $180 and $200.

«The main reason there is a shortage of water is because of drought … (But) water is a pretty valuable commodity and it has gotten into the hands of people now who are just trading it,» he said.

Mr Anderson said he knew of other farmers who had moved to the Cobden and Terang district, but said while more Australian farmers might want to move to the south-west, many were «tied to their farms».

«Land prices where it rains are a lot more expensive and the first thing you have to do is find someone to take on where you are in that irrigation country,» he said.

The Anderson family says they moved entirely for their daughters, Katie, 21, and Renee, 19.

«Our two daughters are just so passionate about dairying that we thought we just have to do this for them,» Mr Anderson said.

Union Dairy Company is one processor working with farmers in drier climates considering a move to south-west Victoria, and chief operating officer Andrew Wellington said enquiry was «building».

«Australia still needs dairy and there will be a natural shift to where the resources allow sustainable dairying. There is plenty of productive land here,» Mr Wellington said.

He said the region’s dairying potential gave the company confidence to moot plans for a second milk plant in the Warrnmabool district or in South Australia.

The company started production in 2017 at a factory in Penola over the South Australian border. About 30 staff now operate the 24/7 plant producing fresh and frozen cream, premium powdered ingredients and fresh milk.

Louis Dreyfus previously had a 30 per cent share in the company, but the European agri giant exited dairy last financial year leaving Warrnambool’s Midfield Group in full control of UDC.

«Now we can be more reactive in the market, all the decisions are made in Warrnambool,» Mr Wellington said. «There’s not too many wholly owned Australian dairy companies and we’re proud of that.»

WestVic Dairy’s Mr Ferguson said last financial year the western district region produced the most dairy in Victoria.

«It is probably the best dairy farming area in Australia, or the one with the most potential,» he said.

Source: The Standard

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