Farmers seek strength in numbers

By Sophie Baldwin

A GROUP of northern Victoria dairy farmers are taking matters into their own hands and approaching processors with a collective pool of milk, in a bid to obtain a more sustainable milk price.

To date the group, United We Stand (UWS), has more than 120 million litres of milk pledged from different-sized farms across the state and is fielding calls daily from other concerned farmers.

One of the organisers, Steve Hawken from Bamawm, said irrespective of herd size, the only requirement was the milk must be premium quality.

The group has also received calls from other milk pool collectives across the country.

UWS has been working with the ACCC to formalise the group.

It is also exploring potential opportunities, aside from supplying a processor.

UWS held an information night attended by more than 50 farmers at Kyabram in northern Victoria late last month.

Mr Hawken also said the group was looking at establishing bulkbuy options for inputs including power, insurance, solar panels and even feed.

Mr Hawken said change in the industry was long overdue.

“Processors are scrambling for supply and this is probably one of the best opportunities we have had in a long time to implement some change and secure a sustainable future for our industry,” Mr Hawken said.

“The wheels are falling off the dairy industry and it is time to do something positive about it.”

Guest speaker John Bell reiterated the group’s stance that industry change is long overdue.

“Nothing has changed in the industry for the last 50 years. It is time for farmers to unite, and at the end of the day if we all work together we can go from price takers to price makers and take control of the profits and push up the price of milk,” Mr Bell said.

He said a milk shortfall in the industry of 1.3 million litres for processors Saputo and Fonterra was a significant opportunity.

“If UWS can attract a significant percentage of milk, we will have a serious negotiating point moving forward.

“This has been a positive meeting and it is pleasing to hear there are similar groups with similar thoughts — which is a reflection of where the industry is at.”

Strathmerton dairy farmer Julian Pinnuck has been involved in the dairy industry for 35 years.

He milks 200–300 cows and decided to attend the meeting because his business is going backwards.

“This is our third year as a non-profitable dairy farm and that’s just got to stop,” he said.

“We won’t be able to continue if things stay the way we are, we need a better price. I think the concept UWS are putting forward might work and a change in the dairy industry is well and truly long overdue.”

Peter Lawlor milks 500 cows at Yalca.

His 28-year-old son has taken over the running of the family farm.

“We have survived the millennium drought, the global financial crisis and the Murray Goulburn disaster, being price takers the whole way along. The tide needs to turn and we need to become price makers or none of us will be around in the future,” Mr Lawlor said.

“Processors have been upgrading their plants while paying us a pittance while the industry is on its knees,” Mr Lawlor said.