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17-Jan-2013

Action on dairy crisis

A HIGHLY emotional "dairy crisis" meeting in south-west Victoria this week signalled the beginning of a grassroots movement that hopes to improve farm-gate prices and provide a united voice for the industry.  
 
According to co-organiser and Crossley producer Chris Gleeson, the group now plans to form a sub-committee, and take action to ease the financial pressures facing south-west Victorian farms.  
 
He said many had been dealing with a drastic cut in their milk price, coupled with rising input costs.  
 
"The break even cost is 42 cents a litre and we are getting 35c/l on average – you can't sustain a business on that money.  
 
"The industry is facing a serious crisis and Dairy Australia, as a representative body, has not played a good enough role. We have a fantastic product and some of the best farmers in the world but they are not educating the public or marketing our product."  
 
State and federal lobby groups, United Dairy Farmers and Victoria (UDV) and Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF), also copped flak – with some saying they had not done enough to address the issues and that they were out of touch with farmers.  
 
"It should not have come to this," Mr Gleeson said.  
 
"These groups are supposed to represent us and this was in the writing on the wall since the start of the season."  
 
The 600-strong crowd at Monday's crisis meeting – made up of producers, service providers and community members – filled every available seat in the Noorat Football Club.  
 
Mr Gleeson said the massive show of people sent a strong message of discontent to industry leaders and Government about the plight of dairy farmers.  
 
"It's not just farms, businesses are hurting too," he said.  
 
"Their trading days have gone from 30 to 90 days."  
 
He also said analysts had been pointing to an improving export market but that was not being reflected on-farm.  
 
And with limited young farmers entering the industry, Mr Gleeson said many were concerned the industry would come to a standstill if no action was taken.  
 
The member for the South West Coast, Denis Napthine, and member for Wannon Dan Tehan were both invited to the meeting.  
 
"The fact that more than 600 people attended this at such short notice – that sends out a very big message," Mr Napthine said.  
 
He said the fundamental issues were farm-gate pricing and rising costs, which had triggered financial pressures.  
 
"There is no silver bullet or single solution but one suggestion would be to remove the carbon tax and this should happen immediately," he said.  
 
He also said other suggestions raised by South Purrumbete farmer Adam Jenkins at the meeting – that called for labour market reform – would help the industry move forward and improve.  
 
"The most important thing is this issue has been brought to the forefront and already this morning I have spoken with the Premier Ted Baillieu and agricultural minister Peter Walsh," Mr Napthine said.  
 
"Mr Walsh is happy to meet with this taskforce and help where he can."  
 
Warrnambool dairy consultant and veterinarian Dr Mike Hamblin told the crowd every farmer he worked with would have taxation losses this financial year, as well as rising debt levels.  
 
Many needed immediate help to keep paying their loans.  
 
He suggested the group should initiate a tractor blockade of local Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to stop the supermarket milk price war.  
 
Dr Hamblin's other suggestions included interest-free "survival" loans and grants to struggling dairy farmers and a consumer levy on white milk.  
 
"We need to get money to farmers quickly so they can pay their banks," he said.  
 
He also called for farmers to put more resources into the UDV and to get a lobbyist to promote their cause better at political levels.  
 
In response to criticism, United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV) deputy president Ron Paynter defended the work of the group.  
 
He says the group were planning on holding similar meetings around the State in an effort to make sure people were not suffering alone, as well as seeking courses of action to deliver better returns.  
 
In addition, the agenda of the upcoming UDV conference in March also plans to look at the current milk pricing system, which also came under attack from the dairy crisis group at Noorat.  
 
“This is something we’ve been pushing for a while now,” Mr Paynter said.  
 
However, he said the UDV absolutely understood the anger and frustration of dairy farmers.  
 
“It is understandable farmers are getting angry right now, because current milk prices are not sustainable,” he said.  
 
“There’s a lot of pain out there and it’s natural they would be looking for someone to blame.”  
 
He said farmers were becoming increasingly frustrated at messages from the Government and processors that the industry needed to expand to meet a growing demand for dairy products in Asia.  
 
“We are not seeing prices to encourage us to grow, it’s a real mismatch at the farm-gate in comparison to the so-called glorious future of dairying,” he continued.  
 
“No wonder people are upset and angry.”  
 
Mr Paynter said some of the criticism at the meeting of the group had come about because of a misunderstanding of the work UDV had been undertaking.  
 
“The fact is if you want UDV to be effective as it could be, you’ve got to be a member and be engaged,” he said,  
 
He highlighted the UDV’s defence of the bobby calf market last year as an example, which had come under attack by animal activists. The group has also taken an active role in the discussion on the Murray Darling Basin guide.  
 
“While we did not achieve everything we wanted to relation to the MDB plan, things could have been a lot worse for northern irrigation farmers,” he said.  
 
However, phone calls to Dairy Australia's chair Max Roberts from Stock & Land went unanswered.  
 
A brief email response said the organisation was "more than happy to talk with any dairy farmers or groups of dairy farmers on any issue relevant to what Dairy Australia does".  
 
The "dairy crisis" committee will now form a list of demands that will be sent out to industry, processors and government.  
 
Similar meetings were expected to be held in Gippsland and northern Victoria.  
 
Source: Queensland Country Life

 

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