Tasmanian Country Article - 21 October - If your milk could talk

21 October 2022


Tasmanian Country Article - 21st October 2022 - If your milk could talk

Farming has always been a business of up and downs. It is full of highs and lows, both mentally and economically. Farmers are regularly impacted by macro challenges, such as extreme weather, fluctuating commodity prices, disease incursions, political changes and global unrest. They also face the everyday heartbreaks of their favourite working dog dying, or newborn stock losses due to extreme weather conditions and the frustration of machinery breakdowns and crucial inputs not arriving when needed. This stalwart breed of people just takes these eternal ‘ups and downs’ in their stride as part of the run-of-the-mill love and loss of farming.

I often think it is easy to forget the human side of the daily products we consume. The milk in our lattes, the chips with our burgers, or our Sunday roast (thank you Tom Cruise) shared with family and friends. Every single one of these items originated with the daily undertakings of farmers. They were born, sown, cared for, raised, watered and fed by a farmer. Every food product we consume has a story and this week, in light of the recent deluge across Tasmania and many other parts of Australia, it is important to remember the battles some farmers are facing to bring consumers their daily sustenance.

If your milk could tell you a tale of how it reached your coffee this morning it would be worthy of an Oscar. It would be a story of extreme hardship and dedication, full of power outages, washed away roads, flooded rivers and torrential rain.

This week, we are only now counting the cost and implications of the most recent severe weather event. In the midst of the deluge farmers were doing extraordinary things to keep food on your tables and their livestock safe.

On Friday last week many dairy farmers were battling to not only to milk their cows in torrential rain, but to get milk trucks to and from their farms; navigating flooded and closed roads. TFGA membership manager, Kellie Morris, made and received more than 40 phone calls in a few hours, trying to coordinate milk pick-ups across flood affected areas. Meander Valley Mayor, Wayne Johnston, was also running hot on the phones, working with emergency services to help trucks collect and deliver their precious cargo.

We heard from farming members doing extraordinary things to keep their stock safe. One member slept in his tractor, close to his stock, ready to move to them to still higher ground if the flood levels rose further.

Unlike 2016, there have been few reported losses of livestock from the floods, due to the extreme vigilance of farmers and accurate and timely warnings from the Bureau of Metrology.

Cropping farmers have not been so lucky. Many paddocks in the midst or being prepared for planting crops, such as potatoes, peas and poppies, have been devastated by fast-flowing flood waters. An agronomist has estimated some of the ruined land could possibly lose more than three-quarters of its previous productive capacity for as long as 20 years. In a word — heartbreaking.

I know this all sounds a little dramatic. The truth is, for Tasmanian agriculture, the impact of such an event is dramatic. Tasmanian agriculture on a whole is blessed with a reliable and temperate climate, with some of the longest daylight hours globally and predictable rainfall (on average 13% of Australia’s rainfall falls on less than 1% of Australia landmass). All these factors and a government dedicated to investing into irrigation infrastructure has made Tasmania some of the most sought-after and reliable farming land in the world. So much so I think it is easy for consumers to take for granted the reliability of access to an enviable range of world-class, fresh food.

We all need to remember that a whole group of mundane, but also extraordinary, events take place every day to put a litre of milk in your fridge. And this week it was more extraordinary than ever.

Hugh Christie