Farmers urge united front to save industry

By Dairy News

DAVID JANKE wants the dairy industry — suppliers, processors and supermarkets to forget the last eight years and move forward — as a united front, starting with a base milk price of $1.50/litre for all milk sold into the fresh milk market.

He is pushing hard to save the last of the Queensland dairy industry.

David and his wife Cindy have been milking cows just out of Toowoomba for 40 years.

He says if things don’t change over the next few months his 320 cow dairy farm will be the next statistic.

“For the first time in 40 years we might not be able to sow a summer crop, if we don’t get drought-breaking rains before October we are finished — we can’t afford to buy in fodder unless we start to receive a fair price for our milk,” David said.

Over the last 12 months hay that was delivered for $400/tonne has jumped to $750 while wheaten hay has gone from $300 to $600/tonne, combine that with unprecedented drought and the business like so many others in Queensland, is bleeding money.

“For the last eight years we haven’t been able to spend any money on capital and things have been line ball, we can only handle that for so long,” David said.

He believes the introduction of cheap $1 milk has decimated the dairy industry.

“Twenty years ago, a litre of milk was $1.30 in Queensland — a price of a $1.50 doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation over that time.

“A flat milk price all the way through will benefit everyone and with a bit of sense we can have a good viable industry again; we can’t sell milk for less than what it was 20 years ago.

“If people think $1.50 is too much, the cost of a litre of milk in New Zealand is $3,” he said.

David is concerned about the future of the industry and the rapid exit of so many, especially young farmers.

“If we don’t do something soon there will be no future left in the industry.”

The Jankes recently opened up their dairy farm to government ministers and representatives in a bid to illustrate the devastating position the industry is in.

“We had a great reception but I am not giving up the pressure, we need to get the message out to everyone,” David said.

“The National Dairy Plan need to implement what we suggest or we are not going to get anywhere.

“I have had phone calls and there is 110 per cent support behind me.”

David is now working hard to get representatives from Coles and Woolworths on farm.

“They don’t seem to want to get out of their air-conditioned offices but I am keeping the pressure up,” David said.

Peter Garratt, 37, is another Queensland farmer feeling the pressure.

His family has been milking cows for 90 years on its South Brook property.

He is hoping his farm will be around in the next 20 years so his two young sons can make the decision whether or not they want to farm for themselves.

But he is not sure if that is going to happen.

“If we don’t get some relief from both ends — if we don’t get rain or a shift in farm-gate milk price — we will have to borrow more money and go into more debt and you can only do that for so long,” Peter said.

“Dairy is our only source of income. It has always been that way, it is our primary business.”

Irrigation provides 25 per cent of the Garratts’ herd diet.

The rest is grown from summer crops which are harvested, stored and fed out over the year in a TMR.

There were no summer crops last year and this year is looking no better.

Peter said an increase in milk price to $1.50/litre would reinstate the value of milk, flow back to the farm and put him back into the game long term.

“Shutting down is a real fear and it is something I don’t want to have to think about. I don’t want to do anything else. My skillset is set up around dairy but we have been doing it at a significant loss for the last six months — our assets are set up exclusively around dairy and we don’t have any choice.

“You can’t just turn a dairy cow off.”

Peter said all milk that left the Australian farm gate was quality fresh milk regardless of the size or brand.

“If they want to sell cheap milk source it from places like Vietnam, market it accordingly and see who wants to buy it.

“If Australian farmers get paid a viable price for their milk there is huge potential for everyone, but at the moment the numbers don’t add up and we are all in a desperate situation.”