GAINING back bargaining power and pushing for a higher farmgate milk price. That was the common goal among the 50 dairy farmers who attended the first meeting at Kyabram last week of proposed collective bargaining group UWS Dairy Farmers.
The group, formed by six farmers and a ruminant nutritionist, has about 112 million litres of milk pledged — with the number growing. Organisers hope to use this block of milk as a bargaining tool to attract a better price from processors.
Bill Jones farms at Yarroweyah milking 500 cows and supplies Australian Consolidated Milk. He pledged his milk to the group, although his farm is on the market as he can no longer work due to injury. Employing staff has increased his costs and he said he is “fed-up living hand-to-mouth”.
“We went (to the meeting) to find out a bit more. The biggest problem is that I’m sick of the parasites in the industry — the milk companies and processors. I’m sick of their bullshit. Fonterra came out at $5.85 (a kilogram of milk solids) and they are saying that is their average, I’m yet to speak to someone who is getting that,” he said.
Mr Jones said milk companies were getting a “little bit scared” that a large pool of milk could leave their factories and he hoped all farmers were prepared to stick together to enable this happen.
It’s the first time Nathan Ferguson from Koondrook has been involved in a collective bargaining group. While he’s positive about the concept, he said there was “a long way to go”.
“We are trying to put some power back into the farmers’ hands really,” he said. “What we have been doing is not working, we are always a price taker and in this situation we have got some power.”
Karen Gamble milks 300 cows at Lockington and supplies Bega Cheese. She’s interested in pledging her milk to the group.
“We have the next generation home on the farm and we need to find a way to pay them, there’s no money in it and no incentive for them to come home and stay here when it is so difficult to make ends meet,” she said.
This would be the first time she’s involved with a collective bargaining group and hoped the process could achieve a much higher farmgate milk price.
“Well and truly $6.50 (kgMS) plus, to make ends meet and pay wages,” she said. “You can’t do it on your own and you have debt to pay back.”
Marshall Jacobs, one of the UWS Dairy Farmers founding members, said the group had concluded their initial rounds of discussions with processors, including Saputo. On Monday, they hadn’t heard anything back yet. He said the group was in talks with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regarding the status of the collective bargaining group.
By: SIMONE SMITH
Source: The Weekly Times