No more Aussie milk as one Qld farmer quits a week

 

QUEENSLAND is losing a dairy farmer a week as the crisis gripping the industry enters a shocking freefall.

There are just over 300 dairy farmers in the state now, when there were 350 at the start of the year, according to the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation.

LNP Senator Susan McDonald is ramping up the pressure on supermarkets and processors to give farmers a fair go and sign up to a proposed dairy code of conduct.

Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation boss Brian Tessmann said a 20c/litre levy added on to all milk was needed to stop farmers continuing to exit the industry and keep Australian milk on the supermarket shelves.

"We need to make drastic decisions because it really is an emergency," he said.

Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation boss Brian Tessmann says more needs to be done to stop the collapse of the industry. Picture: Megan Slade
Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation boss Brian Tessmann says more needs to be done to stop the collapse of the industry. Picture: Megan Slade

He said the rapid drop in farmer numbers would not stop while the drought kept adding costs and dairy farmers were squeezed on the price of milk they sold.

"I don't think it will stop at all. It will continue to freefall while the drought continues," he said.

Mr Tessmann said farmers were being driven out by the drought pushing up costs, while the price they were paid for milk barely covered costs.

Senator McDonald has written to Coles and Woolworths CEOs, as well as major milk processors, urging them to sign up to the proposed code of conduct and "commit to paying fairer milk prices immediately".

"If they are serious about being good corporate citizens they should care about this. They should care about what price their processors pay their farmers," she said.

LNP Senator Susan McDonald says the major supermarkets need to commit to “paying fairer prices for milk”. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
LNP Senator Susan McDonald says the major supermarkets need to commit to “paying fairer prices for milk”. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

She said consumers had already shown they were willing to pay more to support farmers and noted New Zealand's average milk price was $A2.20/litre. Milk prices in supermarkets yesterday ranged from $1.20 to 2.20 per litre.

Supermarkets have already agreed added 10c/litre on to homebrand milk, which is passed on in full to farmers, but it does not apply to other milk products.

Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said it had been 19 months since the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had recommended a code of conduct to deal with price disputes.

"Farmers are still waiting and Government MPs and Senators are still fighting over what it should look like," he said.

Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon says the Morrison Government needs to take action now. Picture: Kym Smith
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon says the Morrison Government needs to take action now. Picture: Kym Smith

A Woolworth's spokesman said they had been taking steps for a more sustainable dairy industry, while the government delivered reforms recommended by the ACCC.

"Since September 2018, our drought levy has contributed an extra $29m in relief to more than 450 Australian dairy farmers," he said.

"On top of the levy, we have also agreed to wholesale cost increases from milk processors across the dairy cabinet in response to rising farmgate prices."

Coles was contacted for comment.

The ACCC's dairy inquiry recommendations all referred to the commercial relationship between dairy processors and dairy farmers, not retailers or the retail price of milk.

 

FAMERS NEED RAIN RIGHT NOW

 

THEY need rain now - right now - if they are to plant a summer crop to feed their 450-strong dairy herd, but the Mullins family is losing hope as Christmas approaches.

Dairy farmers have taken one of the worst hammerings in Australian primary industry after deregulation began in 1999 and helped reduce numbers from about 10,000 then to 6000 today.

Andrew Mullins, who provides milk to Norco, one of the few remaining farmers' co-operatives, said he received a fair price.

Fifth generation Dairy Farmer Andrew Mullins with wife Sonia and son Ned, 22 months, on their drought ravaged property just outside Allora in the Goomburra Valley. Picture: Lachie Millard
Fifth generation Dairy Farmer Andrew Mullins with wife Sonia and son Ned, 22 months, on their drought ravaged property just outside Allora in the Goomburra Valley. Picture: Lachie Millard

Norco recently announced a drought support premium payment to milk suppliers, starting October 1, which resulted in an expected increase of five cents/litre over the months leading up to June 30 next year.

However, it is the absence of rain that is pushing a family - which has farmed the land around Warwick for about five generations - to its knees.

Carinya Dairy Farm prior to drought.
Carinya Dairy Farm prior to drought.

Mr Mullins said they had stored up feed for the herd of 450, including about 260 milking cows.

With costs of feed spiralling in Queensland, they are looking interstate for fodder and grain and desperately need their own supply.

"We really do have to have rain now, and I mean right now, if we are going to get a summer crop going,'' he said.

"And so far there is just no sight of rain.''

 

Carinya Dairy Farm in the Goomburra Valley now. Picture: Lachie Millard
Carinya Dairy Farm in the Goomburra Valley now. Picture: Lachie Millard

 

Mr Mullins can trace his ancestral lineage back to Ireland and the country around Limerick where his people also farmed and owned dairy cattle.

Despite the hardship of the past year, he said that he hated the thought of leaving the farming life, breaking a chain enduring across the generations.

But he had to be realistic, he said.

"If this keeps up, we may have no choice,'' Mr Mullins said.


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