Tractor protest start dairy farmers' milk price campaign

REBEL south-west dairy farmers staged a tractor protest at Warrnambool supermarkets yesterday in what they warned could be the first of many protest actions throughout Australia over low farm gate milk prices.

The small protest outside the Centro shopping centre on Mortlake Road was a well-behaved one and involved about eight tractors and a dozen people who promoted the launch of the rebels’ website, farmerpower.com.au to the media and public.

The website, named after the group’s new name, Farmer Power, said more activities were planned in the coming days.

Farmer Power spokesman Chris Gleeson, of Crossley, said further tractor protests might occur “down the track” but the group was presently focusing its efforts on working with the wider community.

Mr Gleeson said the website would be used to let people know about Farmer Power’s future actions.

One of the speakers at a packed meeting of farmers at Noorat on Monday, Mike Hamblin, urged farmers to blockade Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to protest at their milk price war.

Yesterday’s protest was not a blockade and did not hinder the public access at the shopping centre.

The eight tractors were parked on a grassed area in front of the centre’s car park and were twice visited by Warrnambool police during their four-hour protest.

Three of the tractors, which bore Farmer Power signs across their rear windows, later journeyed to the Raglan Parade Safeway supermarket — part of the Woolworths chain — where they briefly stopped in the car park. 

Mr Gleeson said yesterday’s protest was “the starting point of a long road to chase a fairer and better farm gate price for our farmers”.

“We want more money for our milk and we want Australian dairy products back on our shelves,” he said.

It was “unsustainable” for south-west dairy farmers to produce milk at the present farm gate price, he said.

Mr Gleeson said his group had gained support from many people and businesses, not only in the dairy industry, including that of dairy manufacturer Warrnambool Cheese and Butter (WCB), which encouraged its milk suppliers to attend Monday’s crisis meeting. 

WCB is among the dairy manufacturers which the rebel group is lobbying to lift the milk price it offers to its suppliers.

Mr Gleeson said the support from WCB was not surprising because “at the end of the day, we are one industry”.

“Without farmers, there will be no manufacturers.”

He said his group wanted to be a separate “grass roots” identity to existing dairy farmer organisations such as the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and Dairy Australia.

Among those involved in yesterday’s tractor protest were the owners and employees of Houston agricultural contractors of Grassmere and workers from a Grassmere dairy farm.

One of the principals of the Houston contracting business, John Houston, said the protest was not an attack on Coles and Woolworths supermarkets but held to highlight that farmers were not making enough from the milk sold in the two grocery chains.

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