Farmers need more to invest in industry

By Rick Bayne

SOUTH GIPPSLAND dairy farmer Peter Hanrahan, Stony Creek, says payments of $6/kg milk solids aren’t enough for dairy farmers anymore due to rising costs across the business.

Saputo raised its ‘average’ price to $5.95 kg milk solids (MS), up from its opening price of $5.75.

“They’ll say it’s a great price at $6 but when you consider the price of land, water, all other inputs and the ongoing seasonal challenges, you think why bother?”

Mr Hanrahan said the industry is influenced too strongly by the big processors and receives nothing more than lip service support from supermarket chains, media and politicians.

“There is no respect from the processors for the level of skill, intellectual nous and financial investment of the farmers who supply them,” he said.

“When you see Irish butter on supermarket shelves or cheese produced in New Zealand and packaged in Australia it leads you to think we’re on our own.

“We need industry bodies to stand up to the processors,” he said.

Mr Hanrahan says drought and harsh environmental conditions are “part of the game” and farmers could cope better if they were paid a fair price, at least 50 cents more per litre.

“It’s frustrating that companies have pushed us to make more milk to make it easier for them to manufacture but the industry has continued to decline and farmers wear all the risk.

“Processors tell us they want growth but as an industry we can’t afford to buy land to expand and we’re getting sold down. “

The lack of access to young, skilled workers troubles Peter, who fears the drain to city areas not only hurts farmers but local communities and sporting clubs.

“The 18 to 35s who were here until the 80s are no longer living in the regions,” he said.

“How do we grow without skilled labour? If things are to grow you’ve got to pay a premium to attract people to the regions but at the prices we make we can’t do that.”

Mr Hanrahan advocates encouraging migrants to live and work in the country.

“Governments don’t play the game because they won’t send migrants to the regional areas,” he said.

“It worked pretty well after World War Two with the European migrants and it could be the same now.”

Mr Hanrahan believes trade agreements have left Australian farmers battling against international counterparts backed by their governments.

After 35 years as a dairy farmer, Mr Hanrahan is adamant the past five years have been the most difficult he’s experienced.

Peter, his son Pat, who is now helping manage the farm, and their two employees and five backpackers constantly scrutinise budgets to stay afloat.

“The next 12 months will be fascinating with so many people leaving the industry and the large slaughtering rate of dairy cattle with dry conditions in the north.

“We’ve all got great passion for agriculture but the past five years have been incredibly tough, the hardest of my 35 years in the industry.”

Peter’s wife Catherine sits on a health industry discussion group looking at farmer mental health generally and how to provide support to farmers with mental health issues. Peter has concerns for those farmers who are pushed to the limit and are struggling with their health.

“The pressures have become so great and people are not out there communicating like they once were. Everyone’s on tenterhooks and it’s not a healthy way to live.”