FARMERS have been forced to stop irrigating after receiving monster electricity bills.
Dairy farmers have been the first to react to tens of thousands of dollars being added to their power costs this year.
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Farm leaders are blaming the steep rise on the impact of carbon and renewable energy taxes, which the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria expects will cost Australian dairy farmers an average $24,000 a year.
Other high-energy users such as intensive animal industries and horticulturists are also hard-hit.
Rural counsellors say some farmers are being trapped by "Catch 22" situations of having to quickly reduce their power costs and switch off irrigation pumps only to rely on rain to grow pasture to feed stock and produce milk.
Farmers told The Weekly Times they were forced to make cuts to their irrigation to save costs.
"You can't switch off the farm, we're caught," Victorian Farmers' Federation president Peter Tuohey said.
The arrival of the big power bills has cornered dairy farmers battling low farmgate prices, rising costs and a long dry spell.
Farm groups are now pressing for a financial bailout from state or federal governments plus extra leniency from banks.
UDV president Kerry Callow said "skyrocketing energy costs" were hurting dairy farmers, who were "being forced into difficult choices".
She called for the carbon and renewable energy charges to be dumped, which accounted for up to 30 per cent of farmers' electricity costs.
Farmers are banding together in group-buying schemes trying to force down the kilowatt/hour costs.
Some are watering between 11pm and 7am or on weekends to get off-peak electricity rates.
"You fight to save every cent you can on your bill," Cohuna dairy farmer Max Fehring said.
Bills have doubled for some dairy farmers in recent years using the same power consumption, Maffra rural counsellor Ross Neilson said.
"I know of people who have stopped irrigating, it's not so much the cost of water but the cost of power to pump that water," Mr Neilson said.
South Australian farmer Barry Bruce said the cost of powering his rotary dairy had risen from $3000-$3500 to $4500-$5000 a month, in just the past six months.
"Our average cost (of production) was 33c a litre, it's closer to 36c a litre now," he said.
VFF chicken-meat group president Mike Shaw said growers had already seen average annual power price rises of 18 per cent over the past few years.
"We are captive to these costs," he said.