Not just #MyMum but #MyDad, too

“Why are you wasting money sending a girl to school?”

“She’s only going to get married and have kids.”

Dad and I had been fixing a fence when the next door neighbour stopped to share his thoughts on my education. It was 1980 and I was 10.

But Mum and Dad were prepared to make enormous sacrifices to give their kids great educations. They both knew from personal experience what it meant.

My Dad was a lot like Bill Shorten’s mum, only he never did get a university degree. His impediment was similar, too: family, with the added demands of farming.

Dad was bright and wanted to be an engineer but the local high school only went to year 10 and his parents were not rich. Still, they were supportive. When he was accepted by the selective Melbourne Boys’ High, Dad was sent to board with cousins in the big city.

The experience was transformative. For the boy from South Gippsland, Melbourne Boys High opened new horizons, hopes and dreams.

Then his own father fell gravely ill and there was no option other than to return home to run the farm. Dad finally sat his matric amongst the local teens in his 40s and, while he loved to draw up extravagant plans for everything from the pump house to the new garage, becoming an engineer was beyond his reach.

Dad made the most of his farming career and even won a six-month study tour to the US sponsored by the Young Farmers.
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My Mum, like Bill Shorten’s, got her ticket out of poverty with a government scholarship to attend Teachers College, which was not rewarded with a degree but a career nonetheless. She finally graduated with a diploma in 1990.

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Unsurprisingly, both Mum and Dad were keen for us to do our best and it was always assumed my brother and I would go to university at a time when degrees were rare, especially for farm kids.

They’d squirrelled away money for years to send us to the best school an hour down the road and struggled like hell to pay the fees through drought and the “recession we had to have”.

So, when I emerged from uni with a couple of degrees in 1992, I knew it was as much my parents’ achievement as my own.

Nowdays,a degree isn’t all that remarkable and our neighbour would be considered a dinosaur but I’ll never forget the sacrifices my parents made,

Frozen

“She just stands there, like this, frozen,” he said, arms held stiffly by his side, gaze fixed in the far distance.

“It’s not easy taking on a farm right now. No feed around at all, y’know.”

It was a two-minute conversation on the side of a dusty gravel track about a little brindle bull I’d noticed on the roadside a couple of hundred metres back. But it stayed with me the rest of yesterday only to resurface in my dreams.

The farmer in the terry towelling hat I’d warned about the wayward bull was talking about a dairyfarmer my own age who is not coping any more. She owns the bull but she’s no longer the one to call about him.

Nor is she the only one.

There’s also the farming acquaintance who spent two-and-a-half hours in the supermarket the other day, just to get away from the farm and her husband, who has turned to drink to make his own escape.

Dreams, lives, families are being smashed to smithereens. Even so, change is coming at a faster rate than dairy industry bodies seem capable of recognising.

A few days ago, Dairy Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Dairy Products Federation and the Gardiner Dairy Foundation issued a media release inviting farmers to be involved in:

“…consultation that will support the development of the Australian Dairy Plan, identifying key industry priorities and delivering transformative and positive change for dairy over the next five years and beyond.” – joint media release dated April 15

It’s fair to say that the responses in farmer social media forums has been nothing short of scathing.

And after DA chair Jeff Odgers abruptly ended an interview with ABC Rural’s Isabella Pittaway today when pressed on how the dairy plan would help farmers get through the immediate crisis, things seemed even bleaker.

Chatting with some innovators on behalf of the Australian Dairyfarmer mag, though, I’ve been impressed to see that not everyone is frozen.

Farmers are finding new ways to collaborate in the wake of MG’s collapse that offer glimmers of hope in what is a dark, dark time for so many.

But faced with the strong people overwhelmed right now with impossible choices, I really don’t know what to say, except that I am so, so sorry.

Maybe that’s what left Jeff Odgers speechless, too.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Quad bike videos you can’t afford to miss

A fantastic new library of videos, tools and guides have just been released by WorkSafe Vic and I reckon they’re really worth a good look for everyone on farm.

Quad bikes are part of everyday life on most dairy farms but it’s a big mistake to take them for granted.

Some say it’s only operator error that gets people killed on quads. But everyone’s capable of being human.

Wayne and I pride ourselves on being safety conscious but over time, have almost squashed or necked ourselves just making simple mistakes.
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Fast, powerful and agile, quads are incredibly practical machines that can kill precisely because they are fast, powerful and agile. We were lucky not to be hurt but, sometimes, luck just isn’t enough.

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Our farm is up for sale

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There’s no other way to say it. We’ve decided to sell.

Wayne hurt his back badly a couple of months ago and it’s still what I’d call “delicate”. The injury is aggravated by everyday farming chores and nothing’s more precious than health and family. Not even the farm.

It’s satisfying to look back at what we’ve acheived over the last 10 years.

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We’ve planted about 15,000 trees to create shade and shelter for us, the cows and the wildlife

Dam

We’ve harnessed the dam and effluent ponds to guarantee fantastic summer feed.

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There have been massive improvements in the form of dozens of troughs, kilometres of new water lines and more kilometres of fancy fencing.

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Our kids have learnt a lot along the way, too. But now, we’ve got our sights set on new adventures.

It’s time for someone else’s family to enjoy this beautiful place. If that might be you, please contact the agent.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s wrong with welfare milk: back to 1992

The public tide of sympathy for dairy farmers has pushed the supermarkets to act again, this time, with “drought relief” milk. It’s the latest incarnation of what DIAA scholar Norman Repacholi rightly calls “welfare milk”.

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I cannot tell you how grateful I am to everyone who is pushing the supermarkets to do better. But this just can’t go on.

The so-called “drought relief” of 10 cents will reach few of us but all of us are affected by skyrocketing feed prices and need to pass some costs on. Only, we can’t.

Despite the special $3.30 for 3 litre milk that will be promoted for three months or so, most homebrand milk will remain priced at $1 per litre.

Those are 1992 prices. If milk had kept pace with inflation, it would today sell for $1.80 per litre.

Now, it’s true that fresh white milk sold through supermarkets does not account for a big percentage of the milk produced by most Victorian dairy farms. Some will tap their noses wisely and say that it doesn’t really matter a hell of a lot.

But it does, even to a farm like mine whose milk is turned into infant formula. It matters because it demonstrates perfectly how terribly captive Australian dairy farming is and how much reform is badly needed.

I can’t imagine any other Australian who would put up with all their blood, sweat and tears being discounted to 1992 prices. Yet we do, and that culture permeates the way prices are set for all of our milk.

It’s time to banish the begging bowls and get Australian dairy farming back on its feet.

Aldi refuses to lift milk prices

Following the commitment from Woolies and Coles to lift the price of some of its homebrand milk, Milk Maid Marian asked Aldi if it would follow suit. Here’s its response:

“In recent months, we have accepted price increases from a number of our processors to compensate farmers due to current market conditions.”

“Although the cost price we pay for milk has increased, at this point in time we do not intend on increasing retail prices for our customers.

“We support the findings of the recent ACCC Dairy Inquiry and agree with the recommendation to introduce a mandatory Code of Conduct.

“We remain committed to playing our role in contributing to the ongoing success of the dairy industry and a long term commitment to Australian farmers.”

Woolies, Coles move away from $1 milk but ignore the biggie: 60 cent cheese

Coles has followed Woolies’ move to increase the price of its 3 litre milk from $3 to $3.30 and both have promised they will donate the entire increase to farmers affected by drought.

I’m rapt that the supermarkets are finally doing something to loosen the screws. Farmers are suffering death by a thousand cuts and even this limited relief is certainly very welcome, particularly in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, where most of the milk ends up in the supermarket fridge.

To everyone who has spoken up for farmers, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

But, and it’s a BIG but, at the risk of sounding like a whingeing farmer, there are three inconvenient truths that will continue to see farmers quit dairying:

  1. The drought is big trouble, yes, but there’s an exodus of dairy farmers (including those not hit by drought) because there’s simply not enough profit at the farm gate.
  2. The milk that goes into Colesworth’s $6 cheese is worth less than 60 cents per litre.
  3. Only about 13 per cent of the milk produced by Australian dairy farms ends up as fresh white milk on the supermarket shelf, even less in Victoria where most of the cows live! The biggest use for our milk is…cheese.

In other words, it’s like putting a band-aid over an ulcer. Better than nothing but you’re hardly going to save the patient.

In an interview with Milk Maid Marian, federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said he was open to applying a levy to other dairy products, such as cheese, so long as industry asked for one.

In a response to Milk Maid Marian’s question about cheese, Coles would only talk about milk and, at the time of posting, I had no response from Woolworths. Stiff cheddar, I guess!

Exclusive interview with Ag Minister: the code, the levy and a lack of leadership

In an interview with Milk Maid Marian, the federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, has made some extraordinary comments.

The Minister:

  1. is open to a levy on a range of dairy products (not just milk) if industry asks;
  2. believes a retail levy should be imposed until there is “market purity”, which means true competition for milk at the farmgate;
  3. says the supermarkets have a big role to play in the sustainability of Australia’s dairy industry;
  4. wants industry to come to him with ideas about how to halt the exodus of dairy farmers but says the ADF has not made any requests of him that would address farm profitability.

I hope the interview stimulates debate about how our industry has responded to the crisis over two years. Worth watching all the way to the end, so grab a cuppa.

 

 

Mandatory dairy code vote goes through

Sources have confirmed that a 7 to 6 vote in favour of a mandatory code was passed at Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) this week.

The close result follows a campaign against the adoption of a mandatory code from the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria.

It’s a postion that appears to put the UDV in direct conflict with its own members, according to survey results presented by the ADF to a small group of farmers earlier this week.

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The UDV declined to comment on the vote result yesterday, referring Milk Maid Marian to the ADF, which has promised a response on Monday.

What’s stopping us?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Like an oozing sore on the ankle of Australian dairy, the frustration with the inaction of our national umbrella body has finally broken into an open wound.

Months after releasing its report into our woes, the ACCC has released a guide to the recommendations in an apparent attempt to build momentum.

Meanwhile, the federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud, has delivered dairy leaders an ultimatum backed up by a statement issued yesterday that includes this slap in the face for our representatives:

“The ACCC report into the sector identified market failure. I asked the dairy sector to come to a united position on a response to the report and a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry. This has not yet happened.”

Apparently, they have until tomorrow to be forthcoming, or else.

Yesterday, Minister Littleproud threw his support behind a 10 cent levy on milk to help farmers. Today, the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison poured cold water on the idea.

Two years have passed. The silver lining to any crisis is change. We’ve seen none. Why? Who or what is stopping us?