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Power outages would push food prices higher from paddock to plate, farmers say

15 June 2022

Powerlines for as far as the eye can see, amongst brown grass and a blue sky
Power supply issues are causing concern for farmers across Queensland.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Queensland's power problems are set to push sky high produce prices even further, according to farmers who are trying to prepare for blackouts.

Key points:

  • Farmers are gearing up for blackouts and brownouts across the state
  • Higher prices for power and diesel for backup generators could mean more price rises on supermarket shelves
  • Queensland's largest sheep and goat processor says it could have to shut down "until the issue is resolved"

The cost of power has been rising so rapidly the Australian Energy Market Operator set price caps for Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, leading to fears of blackouts due to a shortage of electricity.

Biloela herb farmer Richard Fairley said he was so concerned about the capacity of traditional power plants to send reliable electricity down the line that he recently started stocking up on generators for his central Queensland property.

"The main thing we use power for is irrigation and then we have cold rooms where we chill the herbs down for refrigerated trucks to pick up," he said.

A man wearing work button up shirt in a green paddock filled with herbs
Herb grower Richard Fairley says blackouts and brownouts are causing lots of trouble with his operation.(ABC News: Russel Talbot)

Brownouts are partial outages.

Mr Fairley said power supply had been a long-term concern of local businesses.

"We've always been equipped with generators, but I've gone to the next level now and ordered generators for the pumping as well just to keep the irrigation going cause it's vital when we're irrigating that we keep the water on the herbs," he said.

Dam in background with a small shed sitting next to solar panels and a ute in the foreground.
Many farms and businesses are turning to solar as a more reliable and affordable power supply.(Supplied: Chris Brayley)

Production costs rise

Mr Fairley said the extra cost burden would cause pain along the supply chain and he expected the problem would only get worse.

"I wouldn't be surprised if trucking companies start falling in a heap because they can only pass so much price on, and people are going to really start feeling it," he said.

Meanwhile, a western Queensland sheep and goat processor said issues with power supply would effectively shut down its operation.

A man dressed in a white coat and hairnet stands beside hanging goat carcases
Campbell McPhee says his business would come to a standstill if it experienced power supply issues.(ABC Rural: Andrea Crothers)

Western Meat Exporters managing director Campbell McPhee said his Charleville operation was completely exposed.

"Obviously being on this line that comes all the way up to Charleville and out to Quilpie is concerning that it may be a forgotten part of the world and in the industry, we're so reliant on it," Mr McPhee said.

He said high diesel prices meant generators were not a viable alternative to keep the plant running.

"Even slight brownouts cause concerns because a lot of machinery will automatically shut down," Mr McPhee said.

Farms that use their own power could also find themselves exposed to the impacts of mains interruptions.

BettaPork pig farm director Laurie Brosnan said any issues with the electricity network could force the Biloela operation to use backup generators, despite his property having a system that converted animal waste into electricity.

Laurie Brosnan from Betterfield Piggeries outside Biloela
Laurie Brosnan says the company has plenty of generators.(ABC News: Amy McCosker)

"If the network shuts off in a storm and we have a brownout our system will shut down as well," Mr Brosnan said.