FLEDGLING south-west lobby group Farmer Power has gained key support from the traditional United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and Victorian Farmers’ Federation.
Leaders of the three groups late last week agreed to take a unified approach to state and federal governments, calling for urgent assistance to save the industry.
Already Farmer Power has harnessed support from about 800 people at a Noorat public rally last month, brought federal and state MPs out of their offices to meet farmer representatives and triggered similar grassroots activism in other parts of Victoria and interstate.
Its surprise rise to prominence revealed a deep dissatisfaction in the two traditional farmer organisations.
However, after a meeting in Koroit the three groups flew a united flag.
In a joint statement they said: “Dairying is our state’s biggest export earner. Together we need to support our farmers for the future of the state.
“We will be going to banks to get their support and then to government to get financial assistance for farmers.”
Wannon MP Dan Tehan had earlier indicated he was keen to take a unified approach to federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, asking him to meet a deputation of farmers either in Canberra or in Victoria.
A suggestion last week that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Mr Ludwig be invited to the Allansford dairy field days in two weeks was ruled out after it was discovered that Federal Parliament would be sitting that week.
Farmer Power co-organiser Jock O’Keefe said the bottom line was that dairy farmers were not being paid enough for their milk.
“Our campaign has put the issue of the dairy crisis in the spotlight. Now we have to act,” Mr O’Keefe said.
UDV president Kerry Callow said the viability of dairy farmers had been threatened by unsustainable milk prices and they needed government support.
“Dairy farmers are suffering from a dramatic slump in farmgate milk prices in the face of a high Australian dollar and rising input costs and the impact of the carbon tax,” Ms Callow said
VFF president Peter Tuohey said farmers were sick of being ignored by governments while other sectors were given vast sums to stay afloat.
“The federal and state governments — past and present — have a long history of pouring billions of dollars into keeping foreign-owned car makers in Australia,” he said.
“Why is a Ford worker in Geelong more important than a dairy farmer in Noorat,” Mr Tuohey asked.
Mr O’Keefe said there were also moves for a protest rally in South Australia.
“We have been overwhelmed by support from our local region and other areas,” he said. “People have been saying it’s time to stand up and fight for our industry.”
Mr Tehan and state MPs including Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh and South West Coast member Denis Napthine were given a stark picture of the industry’s plight at a meeting near Terang last week and further meetings are planned for other regions.
Dr Napthine said it was imperative Ms Gillard and senior ministers heard the farmers’ concerns first-hand.
The opposition’s agriculture spokesman John Cobb has already confirmed he will be at the field days on February 14 and at a forum the previous evening.