Frustrated and fed up, dairy farmer Joe Bradley walks on the dry, bare land of a dairy farm north of Brisbane.
It’s 35 degrees, the sun is scorching, and there hasn’t been any rain in months.
The fourth generation farmer who’s been in the industry for over 50 years told SBS News he’s watched it crumble in front of his eyes.
“I’ve watched generation farmers who’ve felt that somehow they’re a failure because their dad made it work, and their grandad make it work, but they can’t make it work,” he said.
“But they’re not a failure, it’s just this bloody system which as I said, we’re getting paid less for our milk than we were 20 years ago.”
‘How the hell am I going to get through this day?’
Mr Bradley said combined with the devastating drought in Queensland, the low price of milk has made it impossible for many farmers to survive.
Over three-quarters of the state’s dairy farmers have left the industry since the year 2000.
It’s taken a toll not only economically, but mentally on the farmers.
“It hasn’t been documented that much but the amount of suicides in the dairy industry throughout Australia is more than you’d want to believe. Trust me it’s bloody terrible,” Mr Bradley said.
“I’ve felt it myself. I’ve been pretty low at times and you just wake up in the morning and think, how the hell am I going to pay the next feed bill for these cows, how the hell am I going to get through this day?”
But Mr Bradley isn’t giving up just yet.
On a normal day, he’s out tending to his heifers, or overseeing milk production, but today he’s in front of a camera, posing for photos.
Fair Go Campaign
He, alongside a group of Queensland dairy farmers’, are shooting for the ‘Fair Go’ campaign – a new state-funded initiative to help consumers identify milk brands that actually pay farmers a fair price.
The Fair Go Campaign works like this: if a dairy brand or processor can verify it pays their farmers 73 cents a litre for milk – which is considered the ‘Sustainable and Fair Farmgate Price’ – they will be eligible to put a special logo on their bottles. Think of it like the ‘Made in Australia’ logo.
Farmers like Mr Bradley have high hopes for the campaign.
“This is the last straw for us. If this fails now… The drought has been terrible, it’s an absolute shocker. But it’s this old saying it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
The Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO) which is behind the campaign, aims to give the power back to the consumer, so that they know what brands are paying farmers a decent wage.
It’s Vice President Matthew Trace told SBS News the campaign “is about awareness for consumers who really want to do the right thing, and make dairying sustainable in Queensland.”
Plans to go national
It was due to roll out on Australia Day, but QDO decided to postpone the launch out of respect for their southern counterparts, many of whom lost livestock, land, or their homes in the recent bushfires.
Two prominent dairy farmers Patrick and Robert Salway also tragically lost their lives while protecting their property in Cobargo.
Mr Trace said the devastating impact of the bushfires makes this campaign all the more important, and noted there are plans to go national by the end of the year.
“There’s definite interest from other states, especially from New South Wales, but also interest from other states, so I think they’re quite keen for us to get going, get sales up, get recognition of the Fair Go logo, and let’s make a go of this,” he said.
QDO has made contact with all the brands and processors, both big and small, to get on board.
While the campaign’s main priority is ‘white milk’ – milk that goes into a bottle – any dairy product where the brand meets the guidelines can use the logo.
Small brands like Maleny Dairy have already pledged to get behind Fair Go and will increase their pay to farmers to the 73 cents per litre.
Brand manager Misty Bland said its customers have been calling out for something like this.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response on our social media platforms, customers showing their appreciation for what we do give back to our farmers, and how much we do actually appreciate the hard work these farmers do,” she said.
Public eager to help
Third generation dairy farmer Gary Rozynski is also apart of the campaign.
He’s fought long and hard for better milk prices ever since supermarket giant Coles infamously dropped the price of milk to just a dollar per litre in 2011.
“It decimated the Queensland dairy industry and the Northern New South Wales dairy industry at the same time,” he said.
While he told SBS News the campaign “probably won’t solve all our problems”, he knows the public are eager to help.
“We really appreciate the support from the general public, they realise the trouble we’re in, they’re happy to pay more, so if it’s got a Fair Go logo on the bottle, they know it’s a sustainable price,” he said.
Alongside Mr Bradley and Mr Rozynski at the shoot, stand another three, slightly different looking dairy farmers.
Hope for future generations
7-year-old Mia, 8-year old Harper, and 12-year-old Amber Geritz, in their gumboots and pigtails, have joined the campaign to keep their family’s dairy farm viable.
Mia told SBS News they deserve a better price for their milk because “we’re in a drought and it’s really hot and we deserve it.”
Harper said “stuff is getting really expensive and they need to pay to feed the cows.”
As for Harper, she kept it simple: “because they work really hard.”
The words of three future dairy farmers, who don’t want their dreams quashed by the price of a bottle of milk.