Norco Cooperative dairy farms and Lismore ice cream factory destroyed by floods

The flood damage bill for Australia’s largest dairy cooperative, Norco, will run into the tens of millions of dollars.

WARNING: This article contains images that people may find distressing

Livestock, fences and pastures have been lost, machinery, houses and dairies have been destroyed and 200,000 liters of milk have been spilled so far.

Norco’s ice cream factory, head office and rural store in South Lismore were inundated by flood waters from the overflowing Wilsons River.

Chief executive Michael Hampson said the water reached 2.2 meters at the ice cream factory and 1.9 meters at the corporate office.

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“I think it was only on Sunday that we had people who were stationed at the ice cream factory and they were fighting an opponent that they just couldn’t win against,” he said. .

“We knew then that we weren’t just dealing with a flood here, we were dealing with significant devastation.”

It could be months before the ice cream factory resumes operations.(Rural ABC: Kim Honan)

Mr Hampson said he expected the flood damage to put the ice cream factory out of business for a “good time”.

“The stock is sold out, but we have other cold stores in Brisbane and Sydney that have unallocated stock which we ship to customers,” he said.

“There is certainly significant cleanup work that needs to be undertaken there over the next few days and weeks, and then there will be the evaluation of the performance of the equipment once it has power.

A dozen people wearing rubber boots stand in front of damaged bags of food.
Michael Hampson (right) with his team cleaning the Norco’s store in South Lismore.(Rural ABC: Kim Honan)

Rocky road for dairy products

Dairy farmers are among flood-affected primary producers in NSW, now eligible for grants of up to $75,000, transport subsidies of up to 50% and low-interest loans of up to $130,000.

Norco also pays for any spilled milk, arranges fodder and food deliveries, and offers interest-free loans for items such as fencing purchased from its rural stores.

Mr Hampson said half of his 200 farms in New South Wales and Queensland had been affected.

“We have dairy farmers from north of Gympie and down to Oxley Island and Taree to the south, but in the Lismore area most dairy farmers are going to have bills of $1 million, $2 million, something like 3 million dollars to rebuild – those are big numbers.”

“They are family businesses, but the price to rebuild dairies and get herds is not what it was five or ten years ago; there has been huge inflation, so our dairy farmers are going to need lots of financial help to rebuild.

Dead dairy cows line a fence at a farm.
Dead dairy cows on Paul Weir’s farm in Tuncester near Lismore.(Provided: Paul Weir)

“In this area we have five farms that are significantly affected and we have been trying to help organize helicopter food and fodder drops to their facilities to help them and their livestock during this time.”

He said he was on the phone with a dairy farmer during the flood when his cattle were swept away.

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“Farmers are very resilient, they may seem to be leaving this stuff behind, but I think this time around they really need some extra help.

“Certainly for some of our farms, this may be the second time in a few years that they have suffered devastation.

“Let’s not forget that while we’re talking about a flood, not too long ago some of these farms went into debt in the hundreds of thousands of dollars during the drought to feed the livestock, so the industry currently needs significant assistance.”

A dead dairy cow.
One of Paul Weir’s dairy cows has been found dead not far from Norco’s headquarters.(Provided: Paul Weir)

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