Dairy farmers desperate for solution to industry crisis

ANGRY south-west farmers are hoping their grass-roots revolt against dwindling dairy returns will spark a new movement across Australia to fight for their survival.

More than 600 farmers who attended a dairy crisis meeting in Noorat on Monday night called for action involving a blockade of the supermarket giants, interest-free survival loans, a powerful lobby campaign and a new consumer levy on fresh milk.

Co-organiser Chris Gleeson, a Crossley dairy farmer, said a sub-committee would act on the anger expressed by people in the packed hall. 

The group is planning to link up with other discontented dairy farmers in northern Victoria and Gippsland to get help to tackle the industry’s financial problems.

Warrnambool dairy consultant and veterinarian Dr Mike Hamblin said high feed costs and a decline in milk prices would make 2012-2013 a tough year. “We are going to lose people out of this industry pretty quickly,” he said.

He estimated that farmers paying more than 20 per cent of their gross farm income in finance costs would be “in heaps of trouble”.

Mr Gleeson expressed strong dissatisfaction with present industry representative bodies including the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) and Dairy Australia.

“This industry needs change,” he said. 

“It is a crisis situation. They (the industry representative bodies) should have called a meeting like this.”

He said the sub-committee, whose members would be chosen by the meeting’s executive committee, would work with government and present industry leaders to develop solutions to the industry’s sustainability strife. However, it was looking for “fresh blood” to lead the industry out of the crisis, he said.

Dairy Australia needed to do more to market Australia’s milk products, Mr Gleeson said. He said there was a widening gap between the bright future for Australia’s dairy industry that is being promised by Dairy Australia and the economic struggle experienced by south-west dairy farmers.

Mr Gleeson said the meeting’s executive committee included himself, Phillip Bond of Ecklin, Jock O’Keefe of Winslow, Karinjeet Singh-Mahil of Crossley and Ted Conheady of Noorat.

Among solutions to the crisis suggested at Monday night’s meeting by Dr Hamblin were a tractor and machinery blockade of local Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to stop their ongoing milk price war.

Dr Hamblin said that while supermarket milk prices might not have a big impact on the farm gate price paid to farmers, it did “devalue our product”. Selling milk at $1 a litre made it cheaper to buy than bottled water, he said. 

“We need to get money to farmers quickly so they can pay their banks,” he said.

Dr Hamblin also called for farmers to put more resources into the UDV and to get a political lobbyist to promote their cause better at political levels.

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