The value of trees for shelter is a potential sticking point in insurance settlement negotiations with Powercor after the St Patrick's Day bushfires.
Dixie farmer Daniel Gilmour was initially informed that for his almost five kilometres of plantations damaged or destroyed in the Terang/Cobden bushfire he could only claim replacement seedlings.
He didn't think that was a fair valuation for trees up to 100 years old and led him to pursue the issue.
"Replacing mature trees and plantations with 15cm seedlings is far from fair compensation," he said.
"That led me to go to the internet to try and find a better way to value trees and shelter.
"I found a tree valuation method through the Melbourne City Council and then tried to apply that in a rural landscape.
"When I put in a significant claim the lawyers recognised that our trees were far more valuable than they'd first estimated and worked with us to establish a more realistic claim for their loss.
"You can't simply value a seeding as the same as a 50, 60, 80 or 100-year-old tree."
It's accepted that dairy farm milk production can be down by as much as 40 per cent in extremely hot weather.
But, determining loss with cropping, sheep or beef farmers is far more difficult than checking the milk vat.
Mr Gilmour, a former farm economist with the Department Of Agriculture, said the loss of production was only part of any loss equation.
"The value of a tree is not just linked to production," he said.
"There's also livestock welfare and the amenity of trees over sheds - there has to be an economic value for trees and shelter.
"I'm not saying a feature tree in Melbourne's Botanic Gardens is worth the same as a tree in the middle of a Gilmour plantation at Dixie.
"But, there has to be a valuation based on factors including age, size, health, species and location, similar to what was done by the Melbourne City Council."
Mr Gilmour said he was a beef and sheep farmer today but he could be dairy farmer tomorrow.
"The value of my trees should not solely rely on the enterprise I'm running on my farm," he said.
Mr Gilmour said his no-cost insurers lawyers found an example where shelter had been replaced with sheds.
"I know farmers who have been distraught since the fires because they have not had shelter for their livestock in extreme of weather, if that's heat in summer or freezing cold in winter," he said.
"All I'm asking is that there be considering for the value of trees and shelter."
The Dixie farmer said he had now put in a claim for sheds to replace his plantations.
"And that only covers about 10 per cent of the shelter provided by the plantations," he said.
Ecklin dairy farmer Simon Craven said it took 10 years to grow trees to protect adult cattle.
"The simplest way I explain this issue is, would a Powercor worker sit at their desk in the middle of a paddock on a 40 degree day or on an eight degree day when the hail is coming down sideways?" he asked.
"This discussion should not be had in a court room, it should be fought and decided on a 40 degree day in the middle of a paddock."
Mr Craven said trees and shelter were generally an untested area of compensation.
"There's not many cases like this. Comfort and welfare of livestock is always a key issue for farmers," he said.
"Before we opened the gate into a bush block on those really hot days. Now, I've looked at putting in sheds, but there's issues with the initial costs and then the ongoing costs of cleaning, disinfectant and woodchips.
"Trees also add to the amenity of a farm.
"I honestly don't know what the answer is and no one can give me a straight answer," he said.
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