There has been a lot of talk about $1 a litre milk, but people are happily paying $3 a litre for organic milk.
While it can be an easy choice for the consumer to pop a two-litre container in the shopping trolley, for dairy farmers, the decision is not so simple.
Long-time New South Wales mid-north coast organic dairy family Paul Eggert and his son Chris made the switch 18 years ago.
Now the Eggert family milks around 220 predominantly Jersey cows at its Redbank Farm on the outskirts of Wauchope.
Chris Eggert said there was a need to “let go of a lot of ego” when moving to organic dairying from conventional milk production.
Advantages and obstacles
With Chris Eggert these days at the helm, they are eager to explain to those considering the move the advantages and potential obstacles.
The Eggert family has several generations of dairy experience, including senior roles with various industry bodies.
When the family made the move, they were accompanied by four other dairy farmers in the region.
Over the years, they are the only operation in the group to remain organic.
Recently they were joined by a couple at Hannam Vale north of Taree as the only suppliers of organic milk to NSW north coast processor, Norco.
Despite higher price, organic demand grows
There is increasing demand for organic produce including milk on supermarket shelves despite the higher prices charged.
The growing thirst for organic milk has the dairy co-op enlisting the Eggerts in an attempt to get more farmers to go organic.
“We’ve got such a large market and calling for organic milk,” said Marie Searle, Norco’s southern field officer.
“The organic sector is being called on big-time by consumers”
Ms Searle was on hand to meet potential organic dairy farmers at a recent field day at the Eggert farm that was backed by Norco, Australia’s largest dairy cooperative.
“Norco is looking to foster and develop a network behind those suppliers and also a wider base of suppliers because there is a huge demand for it,” she said.
Times have changed
That support is very different to what it was for the Eggert family when it went “pretty well cold turkey overnight” nearly 20 years ago.
It takes three years for a dairy farm to gain organic certification, which then enables the accredited operation to be paid a premium for the organic product.
During that period, the price paid is the same conventional milk suppliers receive while the initial inputs are higher.
However, Chris Eggert noted with industry deregulation, changes had to be made if they were to continue the family dairying tradition.
“Our milk was the same as everybody else’s, so we had to be different. But it’s not just about economics.
“We really enjoy it. It is good for us, good for the consumers and the environment. It’s a win win.”
One of those with an eye to possibly going down the organic path is former Bellingen dairy farmer Colin Kethel, who plans to return to the industry.
“Organic doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it was. It seems to be fairly flexible as long as you follow the general rules that organic people put down,” Mr Kethel said.
A2 attracts premium price
Not all the dairy farmers attending the field day are planning to head in the direction of the Eggerts and possibly Mr Kethel.
A2 milk producer Sue Cleary believes there are aspects that she would possibly apply to the dairy farm she operates with husband Leo and son Luke.
Despite not being organic producers, they attract a premium for the milk from their Hastings Park dairy at Brombin west of Wauchope.
They produce A2 milk from their 300-strong herd which through breeding has a different genetic makeup to cows providing conventional milk.
Supporters of A2 claim it is less of an irritant when digested by some who have an adverse reaction to the more widely available milk.
They are already being paid above the regular milk price, Mrs Cleary does not expect an added premium for organic as well.
New ideas to apply
However, this does not stop Mrs Cleary from looking at ways to improve, which is why she attended the field day.
“In this day and age you have to have an open mind to all avenues, to what will make you the very best dairy farmer,” Mrs Cleary said.
“It is always valuable to gain knowledge. Everyone can give you a new perspective and you may be able to apply that to your own operation.”
Chris Eggert’s attitude that they “had nothing to lose” has paid off.
His enthusiasm in passing on his experience to other potential organic milkers may boost organic milk production, therefore helping sate the appetite of consumers.
By: Michael Cavanagh
Source: NSW Country Hour