News

Farmers had little choice but to sell the co-op

By Dairy News

ALMOST 70 years of history came to an end in a Melbourne building last month, when Murray Goulburn Co-operative shareholders overwhelmingly voted to sell the milk processor to Canadian company Saputo.

It was a sombre end for the processor, with many equating the $1.31 billion sale to a funeral.

The final nail in the coffin came swiftly, with 97.9 per cent of shareholders voting in favour of the sale just six months after Saputo put forward its offer in October.

For many suppliers it was almost a foregone conclusion as many felt they had no option but to vote in favour, with Murray Goulburn’s own chief executive officer Ari Mervis previously labelling the processor “unviable” without the sale.

Plummeting milk supply was ultimately the straw that broke Murray Goulburn’s back. The company lost more than one billion litres of annual supply — or 45 per cent of its overall milk supply — in the 12 months following the 2016 milk price crisis as hundreds of dairy farmers fled from the processor.

Saputo chief executive officer Lino Saputo Jr said the vote was a “significant milestone” in the company’s bid to acquire Murray Goulburn.

Murray Goulburn supplier director Craig Dwyer thanked those across the generations who had helped build the company, and encouraged suppliers to “turn to the future”.

“MG has meant many things to many people; suppliers and employees alike,” Mr Dwyer told the meeting on Thursday.

“I would encourage you all to give (Saputo) a chance to prove themselves with your supply, and build on the foundations created by so many of you and your hard-working dairy farming predecessors.”

Originally established in Cobram in 1950 by seven dairy farmers, Murray Goulburn grew to 2000 suppliers and shareholders, with milk processing factories across the country including in Cobram and Rochester, which was closed in January.

Lockington, Vic, farmer Ron Read has been an MG supplier for 35 years and said it was heartbreaking to see the end of the co-op.

“It’s a tragedy but the best result given the circumstances,” he said.

“It will never be the same now the co-op is gone. Suppliers felt part of the operation with the co-op and that bred loyalty.”

Ballendella, Vic, farmer Adam Campbell said the deal was a disappointing but necessary step.

“It’s sad to see the co-op fold but we all have financial pressures and this is the best way forward for everyone,” he said.