Power price bites

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alana Chris­tensen

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.’’ robert.ocon­nor@ecodev.vic.gov.au ■ 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.

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