Power price bites
Dairy farmers are being crushed under the weight of power prices, with climbing power bills impacting their ability to stay competitive.
The rising cost of electricity has hit farmers hard, with Australian Dairy Council figures claiming that dairy farmers spend between $35 and $75/day on electricity to power their dairies, compared to between $20 and $45/day seven years ago.
The power price spike has also hit Katandra West farmers Gayle and Laurie Clark, despite the couple installing a 30 kW solar system on the dairy shed roof a number of years ago.
While the system has resulted in significant savings, it hasn’t been enough to avoid climbing power prices.
‘‘The solar system cut our dairy bill by about a third when we first installed them . . . unfortunately there has been increases in our power bills lately. No-one gets away without an increase unfortunately,’’ Mr Clark said.
‘‘Looking at it now just sort of cements that what you did was a good decision. At the time is was a tough financial decision to justify.’’
The Clarks have used power generated by the solar system to power their roller mill and drive their irrigation pump in the recycle dam, with the savings seeing the solar system paid off within a couple of years.
Yet while the Clarks have been able to ease their power price pain, Katunga dairy farmer and Australian Dairy Farmers natural resources and management group chair, Daryl Hoey, said he has heard instances of farmers’ bills doubling in recent months and has called on the federal and state governments to do more.
‘‘Significant solutions have to come from government input and it appears at the moment the government is on a complete freeze on thinking on this and don’t know how to react,’’ Mr Hoey said.
‘‘Prices will continue to go up until they start to come up with some real solutions rather than just token gestures.
‘‘We’ve got an embedded high cost in our system. Until governments completely rethink their distribution network and start to provide real alternatives to bring down the prices, there’s no real light at the end of the tunnel.’’
Katamatite East dairy farmer Iwan Van Den Berg, who operates an 800 ha farm with his wife Melissa, and his brother Erwin and partner Julie, milking about 1250 cows, echoed Mr Hoey’s claims and said his electricity bills had been climbing for some time.
‘‘They’re not quite double but they are certainly a lot higher (than they have been in the past),’’ he said.
‘‘We’re trying to research all sorts of new ideas however there’s nothing getting done about it from higher up. We won’t be the only ones that would suffer as a result of the prices.
‘‘We need someone in Canberra with a vision and to work towards it rather than squabbling about nothing.’’
Weekly information to assist irrigators in matching water delivery with plant water requirements will be published this spring and summer in Country News.
In an arrangement with Agriculture Victoria and Murray Dairy, weekly evapotranspiration figures will be published on page two of Country News.
The figures were published last irrigation season and some irrigators reported the information was useful in planning irrigation delivery.
Rob O’Connor, from Agriculture Victoria’s Echuca office, said the information was about helping irrigators better match irrigations with plant water requirements to maximise plant growth and water efficiency
‘‘Basically the information will help irrigators avoid green droughts — where plants are green but growth rates and water efficiency are not as good,’’ Mr O’Connor said.
‘‘The irrigation requirements are based on evapotranspiration (ETo), which is a calculation of plant water use, using various elements of the weather including sunshine, temperature, wind and humidity
‘‘Typically spring and autumn are difficult times of the year for farmers to get irrigation right, due to more variable weather conditions.
‘‘The info in the summary is likely to be of value this time of year.
‘‘The summary will provide irrigation scheduling information for farmers who use either surface (flood) irrigation or sprinkler systems.’’
Mr O’Connor said most farmers already had a pretty good feel of when to irrigate.
‘‘A lot of irrigators use the summary to refine what they are already doing.
‘‘For rye-grass based pasture, research has shown growth is optimised when cumulative ETo minus rainfall equals 40 mm to 50 mm, starting from when surface water has drained away following the last irrigation,’’ he said.
‘‘Over 300 local irrigators and service providers currently receive a more detailed weekly ETo email update.
‘‘This season we have developed a fairly simple surface irrigation spreadsheet tool that will come out with the email.
‘‘Irrigators will be able to plug a few of their details in to the spreadsheet including their last irrigation date, and the spreadsheet will visually show when the next irrigation is due.’’ firstname.lastname@example.org ■ Evapotranspiration is the water used by plants at their optimum growth rate, plus any loss of water from the soil surface. Evapotranspiration depends on a number of factors including sunlight, wind, temperature and humidity.
Going solar . . . Gayle (pictured) and Laurie Clark installed a 30 kW solar system at their Katandra West dairy several years ago to curb their power costs and help the environment.