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The impact of Australia’s bushfire crisis on food production

17 / 02 / 20

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires attracted the attention of the world. Lives have been lost, and bushland, homes, wildlife, farms and infrastructure destroyed by the sheer scale and savagery of the flames.

The worst fire season in living memory has coincided with the hottest and driest conditions ever experienced in Australia. The disastrous impact of climate change has become very real, as well as the fact that Australia was underprepared. This disaster has had adverse effects on farmers and farming, the vital first link in our local food supply chain and only time will tell of likely long term impacts.

Animals

Back in early January, the Australian Federal Agriculture Minister feared stock losses would exceed 100,000, while others estimate even greater losses. According to Meat & Livestock Australia, about 13 per cent of the national sheep flock is in regions that have been significantly impacted and a further 17 per cent in regions partially impacted by the fires.

Meat and wool output will be reduced. Significant effects are being felt in the dairy industry, where stock losses, road closures and power outages caused reduced production and shortages. Bega Valley dairy farmers had to dump 800,000 litres of milk after the New Year’s Eve firestorm because they couldn’t get it to the processing plant. And all this was on top of the already challenging impact of drought and low milk prices.

Crops

Plant food production is also vulnerable to bushfires through direct crop losses and destruction of fences and equipment. The vegetable industry’s peak body AUSVEG predicts the price of fruits and vegetables is expected to jump by up to 50%, especially in Queensland because produce transported from NSW and Victoria are being diverted around road closures due to bushfires. Vegetables affected include cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables such as rocket and spinach, and root vegetables such as potatoes and pumpkins.

Even bees are being affected and this is bad news for both pollination of food crops and honey production. In NSW eucalyptus forests damaged by fire, the government has placed sixty-four tonnes of processed sugar on the ground to prevent starvation of bee colonies.

Seafood

The oyster growing region on south coast of NSW suspended harvesting due to water pollution caused by bushfires, and a mass fish kill has occurred on the Macleay River on the NSW mid-north coast due to bushfire ash being washed into the river by rain.

The impact of the bushfires is affecting the livelihoods of primary producers, reducing supply levels and increasing the price of fresh food.