Milk price index not meeting dairy farmers’ needs

By Country News

Labor has accused Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud of desperation after he launched a review of the Federal Government’s milk price index.

The review follows concerns the index is not meeting the needs of the industry.

Mr Littleproud announced the review last Tuesday, saying he was interested to hear ways the index could be improved.

‘‘The Milk Price Index was designed to help farmers easily access information which can help them make decisions,’’ he said.

‘‘The aim is to let farmers compare farm gate prices, to encourage competition among processors.

‘‘The truth is we need farmers to enter their data into the index in order for it to work well. Obviously I can’t force them but if there’s something we can do to make that easier, we will.’’

A low-take up rate has been the central criticism of the index, with the department revealing in December just 38 farmers had submitted their data.

The index currently shows export prices for cheese, butter, skim milk and whole milk powder and is designed to deliver price transparency and help dairy farmers to understand market signals.

‘‘The review will also look at how well farmers understand the index and if it’s working for them,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said farmers were angry he dismissed Labor’s pledge to pursue a minimum farm gate milk price.

‘‘Their frustration has left him scrambling,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He said government intervention was needed to help dairy farmers grappling with market pressures, adding Labor supported improving the index.

‘‘Our plan to fast-track a mandatory code of conduct and to ask the ACCC to investigate a minimum farm gate price for farmers is providing dairy farmers with real hope for the first time in many years.’’

Mr Littleproud has rejected the opposition’s plan, arguing ‘‘going back in time’’ to a regulated marketplace won’t help.

Quality and timeliness of the index, industry appetite for the index to be hosted and paid for by industry when the government funding concludes will also be examined.

The $2million milk price index was originally announced in May, 2016, as part of a $579million dairy support package following the milk price crash.

■To take part in the milk price index review, visit: haveyoursay.agriculture.gov.au