South-west dairy operators have banded together to help nearby farmers hit by the recent COVID-19 outbreak to continue running their businesses.
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) Wannon member Bernie Free owns farms in Winslow and Yambuk and said he'd heard of farmers pitching in to help others who'd tested positive or who were isolating in the past few weeks.
He said some owners who were unwell could feel it was 'business as usual' and that they had no choice but to soldier on, which was a worry.
"We need to keep an eye on neighbours in that respect to make sure they don't get themselves into a situation where the safety of the farmers, as well as their animals, is a concern," Mr Free said.
He said the well-being of farm owners and their remaining workforce was an issue.
"We're all worried about making sure we don't spread COVID so we're sending the workers home and who's doing that extra workload? It's usually the owners. It doesn't matter what business it is.
"We've just got to make sure we don't overwork the people who are still at work and the owners."
Mr Free said it was up to neighbours and friends to check in and "keep a greater awareness of what's going on in our own local community."
He said he was aware of some COVID cases on farms locally, but the full extent was unknown.
"I'm sure there's more out there and they're just keeping it under the radar and managing it themselves," he said.
"I also wonder anecdotally if there are people out there that know they've got it and are isolating and continuing to farm but making sure they don't come into contact with anybody."
He said the "whole situation" was getting worse and worse as time went on.
"There doesn't seem to be any thought or plan or co-ordination between any group of governments.
"We're all told to take a rapid antigen test if we feel sick but nobody can get them. Not even with us being dairy farmers and being classified as essential workers, you can't get them."
He said food availability due to the increased infection rates and workers isolating was another huge concern.
"You see all of the articles, and pictures and comments about how much food is in the supermarket," Mr Free said.
"It's fine to have a community that's angry with the government, but to have a community that's hungry and angry is a combination no-one wants."
Mr Free has been farming for 30 years and milks 850 cows across his two properties.
He is a member of a dairy industry leadership group that has a line to government and provides advice or comment around specific industry needs in times of emergency or crises.
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