Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair vowed if the Federal Government wouldn’t “step up” in supporting the dairy industry then he would at a state level.
And today he will stand by his pledge by announcing in Coffs Harbour the appointment of a fresh milk and dairy advocate to lead a dedicated dairy business advisory unit within the Department of Primary Industries.
It comes after the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the sustainability of the dairy industry in NSW released its report on December 13, 2018, recommending that the NSW government immediately establish and fund an independent NSW commissioner for dairy.
“We had to go it our own at a state level because dairy farmers are not getting the support they need … and we need to make sure the industry survives,” he said.
Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan, who has pushed for a dairy commissioner, said: “The position needs to be independent of government to provide advice that will ensure the survival of milk production in NSW, which is a fresh milk state.”
Last month when Mr Blair was at a pre-election forum at Wingham – the same day he announced the agricultural commissioner – he promised to raise the issues with his state and federal agriculture counterparts and “if they don’t step up, we will go our own”.
Two weeks ago Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said at a Kempsey dairy that Mr Blair had urged him to look at doing it federally and he was “exploring the opportunity to do that”.
“We wanted to see something at a federal level particularly around the mandatory code but now that looks like its going to be pushed out,” Mr Blair said.
The advocate’s first order of business will be to establish and co-ordinate a fresh milk crisis taskforce, with both industry and government, to identify immediate and necessary actions for the sector.
They will champion the cause and work with the agriculture commissioner to bring processors, retailers and farmers to the table to talk about the issues affecting the industry.
“I have met with dairy farmers, processors and retailers. All have different challenges but they share one clear message – that there is not enough profitability in the whole dairy supply chain,” he said.
The advocate will also work with dairy farmers by utilising expertise within the DPI to help reduce input costs.
Mr Blair said it would also focus on the long-term future by working with industry to drive the demand for NSW milk through a marketing campaign, as well offer fully subsidised course fees for the NSW Dairy Farm Training Program to support the next generation of farmers.
“I see people are prepared to pay $4 to $4.50 for a cup of coffee yet they are still only prepared to pay $1/litre milk.
“I have stood in China and watched people pay $12/litre for NSW milk because they value the product. They know what it’s like to have concerns about food safety.
“We have become so accustomed to paying $1 for a litre for milk because we think that’s all it’s worth.
“The simple truth is it costs farmers money to produce milk, it costs processors money to process milk and costs retailers money to stock milk, yet we’re not paying enough to cover those costs and dairy farms across the state are collapsing as a result.
“When our farmers are no longer able to produce fresh milk and it’s being imported from interstate or overseas, the retail price of milk will skyrocket, leaving supermarkets with an unaffordable product and a reputation permanently tarnished by having destroyed the dairy industry in NSW.”
NSW Labor leader Michael Daley has committed to establishing a dairy and fresh food pricing advocate with a dedicated unit to investigate and report on contracts and prices across the dairy and fresh food supply chain.
This advocate would also work with the sector to find opportunities for collective or co-operative arrangements between producers, processors, wholesalers and big retailers.
NSW Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party member Robert Borsak said it would also support the establishment of a stand-alone commissioner for the dairy market or any other position with delegated powers that would have the interest of the industry at heart.
Snapshot of NSW Liberal and Nationals election commitment
Establishing an agriculture commissioner
Appointing a fresh milk and dairy advocate and establishing a dedicated dairy business advisory unit within DPI.
Working with the industry to develop a ‘buy local fresh milk’ marketing campaign and undertake a targeted campaign overseas using the NSW Trade office network
Offering fully subsidised course fees for the NSW Dairy Farm Training Program
Maintaining a commercial dairy at DPI for research and training
Reprioritising investment into key research areas identified as priorities by the industry
Continuing to provide industry extension support services; and
Extending access to the cattle underpass project