Dairy farmers have welcomed a commitment from both sides of politics ahead of the NSW election, but some fear it will not be enough to address “systemic problems” they say were caused by industry deregulation.
State Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair made an election pledge for a ‘dairy advocate’ on the campaign trail on Thursday, backed by a business unit and marketing campaign to encourage consumer support for NSW milk.
“Our advocate is going to work with our agriculture commissioner to rattle every single cage,” Mr Blair said.
“We can only do so much at a state level, but we’re not giving up.”
Kyogle dairy farmer Shane Hickey dismissed the announcement of an advocate for the industry as “just another political person in office”.
He said the only viable solution to save Australian dairy was to re-regulate the industry.
“Everything we’ve seen since deregulation has been a disaster,” Mr Hickey said.
“Bring back the old policies … the farmer made money, the processor made money, and the consumer paid a fair price for the product.
“Having [a dairy advocate] employed, spending more money to not do anything, it’s the wrong way.”
Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said he welcomed the pledge which followed a similar election promise made by the opposition.
Labor leader Michael Daley committed to the appointment of a dairy and fresh food pricing advocate backed by a unit designated to investigate and report within three months of taking office.
“We did that because we were working with Dairy Connect and NSW Farmers. They asked for it and we delivered it, and you know what? The very next day Woolworths decided to forsake their $1 a litre milk,” he said.
“So thank you to Niall Blair, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, we’re a month ahead of you and the dairy farmers all over NSW are very, very happy with that.”
Mr Morgan said he welcomed “the commitment both parties have made to appoint an advocate”.
“This needs to be done, and it needs to be done immediately, because if we don’t the industry will collapse.”
Mr Morgan said the industry was facing systemic problems that stemmed from the time of the industry’s deregulation in the early 2000s.
“We’re now seeing the consequences of inaction thus far. The current farmgate price is so low that it’s below the cost of production,” he said.
“If we’re not cautious we won’t have a dairy industry in this state in a generation.”
Too little, too late?
John Miller, chairman of the South Coast Dairy co-operative, said it “wouldn’t hurt” to have an industry advocate, but expressed concern that it could be “all talk and no action”.
“People are leaving the industry in droves, great farmers … and we really need to keep them and unless it happens soon, they’ll be all gone,” he said.
There are currently six farmers supplying milk to South Coast Dairy, all of whom say they are struggling to make ends meet.
South Coast Dairy supplier Peter Cullen said milk production in his area had dropped by 20,000 litres a day.
“It’s pretty challenging when you go to bed at night and wake up at say two o’clock in the morning thinking about things. The main one is viability, viability as a farmer,” he said.
Mr Miller said the co-op could only manage to take half of its farmers milk, with the other half going to larger processors who pay much less.
“We’ll keep going, it’s just pretty tough at the moment,” he said.
“We’re punching above our weight against multinational giants so we really need to increase our market share and it’s hard against the big boys.”