The Boyne Valley in central Queensland used to be home to over 80 dairies but now there is just one left and it belongs to the Paish family.
Leonie Paish said that when her family arrived in 1995 optimism was high, but now she is not sure how much longer their dairy will survive.
“It’s a very hard business to be in. Keeping going is maybe something that we can’t continue,” she said.
“For us, it’s not profitable, there’s just not enough money coming in for the sale of our milk compared to the costs.
“I find it very hard to see a future in dairying at all and I think it’s something that consumers should be concerned about.”
It is a story not uncommon in the Boyne Valley where locals have watched dairy after dairy fold.
Former milk producer Ivan Stiller said he can see why young people are not drawn to the industry.
“The work is too hard and there’s too much money elsewhere,” he said.
“I never ever thought it’d get down to this level, it’s only an existence level. Well, some of them aren’t existing.
“There just won’t be the people about. And once they’re out of the industry I don’t know how if they’ll ever get back, or would even want to get back, because of the cost of setting it up now.
Consumers question supply
Shayne Mossman’s family also used to own a dairy but now they graze cattle.
He can remember a time when they all drank milk from the local dairies and says he wonders where Australia’s fresh milk will be produced.
“It’s just crazy. You pay $3 for a bottle of water and much the same for a bottle of milk and look at the work the old dairy farmer has to put in,” he said.
“He’s got to be there 365 days a year, out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning and probably get to bed at 10 o’clock at night.
“For the returns they get it’s just ridiculous.
“I’d pay $10 a litre for milk. That’s probably a bit over the top but I’d be prepared to pay extra for milk if it was going back to the dairy farmers.”
Milk production moving south
According to peak body Dairy Australia, milk production is drying up in the north and southern producers are stepping up to meet demand.
Senior industry analyst John Droppert says it is a trend being seen across the Australia.
“It’s something that has a different flavour, depending on where you are, but in general we are seeing the dairy industry consolidating to the south-east of the country,” he said.
“There’s a few reasons for that and the history goes back a long way. But in general the climate is more favourable and the costs of production tend to be lower.”
In the 1980s there were 22,000 dairy farms in Australia, now the peak body believes there are about 6,000.
While there are less producers nationally they are producing more, according to Mr Droppert.
“The number of farms is shrinking but the number of cows is still about the same, it’s still around the 1.5 million cows,” he said.
“Average production per cow has gone up from around 3,000 litres a cow to nearly 6,000 litres a cow.
“What we have seen is that milk production over time has increased and it increased right up until about the early 2000s.
“Since then we’ve had deregulation, we had the millennium drought, the global financial crisis. More recently the step-downs in the southern states.
“Since the early 2000s we saw milk production fall back from the 11 billion litre mark down to around 9 billion litres. Where it is now.”
No issues with supply: Dairy Australia
Mr Droppert says people in areas where milk supply has dried up often ask where future supply will come from.
“It’s natural for those who aren’t seeing the production take place locally to ask that question,” he said.
“What we are seeing on a national scale is that the industry is increasingly specialising and is increasingly consolidating to it’s strengths, so pulling back to those regions where local pasture is cheap and plentiful and where there’s a critical mass of industry.
“Australia is still pretty good at producing milk, we still export a third of what we produce and I think the fresh milk market is here to stay.”
But how much longer it will be in central Queensland is anyone’s guess.
Leonie Paish says she hopes to continue dairying for as long as she can.
“It’s our life, it’s our passion, it’s what we’ve always done,” she said.
“I haven’t come up with a ‘plan b’ … I guess you could say we are hanging on until to the last [moment], hoping that the industry can change.
“Hoping that there can be something coming back to farmers that starts to make it profitable again.”