Why not have a whinge when we deserve it, after all?

On Tuesday, I was given the opportunity to have a really good cathartic whinge on Melbourne radio and I almost took it. The announcement of an increase in public transport fares prompted 774ABC radio host Mark Holden to ask for examples of what’s gotten cheaper.

The obvious answer is milk, of course! So I rang in and said consumers were getting a great deal on milk, which is at 1992 prices. He wanted to know whether farmers are doing it tough as a result. Now the answer to that question is complex and I wasn’t going to try to explain it all in five seconds so I said that, yes, one in three dairy farmers had left the land since deregulation but that Australians are among the world’s most efficient dairy farmers and that allowed us to deliver low prices. Now that’s a strange message, isn’t it?

It means that instead of whingeing about low prices, we can be incredibly proud of being able to deliver them. Most importantly, we can be incredibly proud of the shape we’re in: we haven’t succumbed to a factory farming model.

  • 98 per cent of Australian dairy farms are family farms rather than corporations
  • The average herd size is 220 (small enough to know every cow)
  • Our cows enjoy “cowness”, as Tammi Jonas would put it, free to roam the paddocks

In other words, our farming practices have become more and more professional without compromising the ethics that guide all the farming families I know: love of animals, love of land. We have a great story to tell and we should shout it from the rooftops!

6 thoughts on “Why not have a whinge when we deserve it, after all?

  1. Your post led me to think more about the concept that maybe we need a new dialogue on food and agriculture that is uniquely Australian, rather than borrowing from what is going on in, say, America(This, I must add, is no slight to our farming neighbours).
    Not all agendas bear relevance to the way we farm, the size of our farms, who owns them, our distribution systems, laws,etc. I think the word “factory farm” is a word flung about too often in this country – What does it really mean here in Australia? Is it just in the end, semantics…
    We do not live in a perfect world in Australian agriculture/food production; there is always room for improvement.
    What I do see overall, is an incredible industry that encompasses an array of different farms, production methods, and collectively produces some of the cleanest, best quality produce in the world. There is something for everyone’s needs, personal taste and philosophy.
    Let’s keep talking, broaden the conversation even more and be very proud of the bigger picture!

  2. Marian here in the UK we find ourselves in a similar position. We are said to be the second lowest cost producers in Europe after Ireland and yet we continue to see around 4% of milk producers leave the industry every year. Perhaps the fact that we have one of the lowest milk prices in Europe has something to do with it. It is easy to whinge and whine here but, at a time when every household is feeling the effects of the global economic downturn, we are likely to turn people off by complaining. But, at a time when consumers are moving away from premium range food labels at and turning to cheaper alternatives, it is more important than ever that we increase awareness of the value of milk from our farms. This might not result in a rise in milk prices but it can buy us some badly needed loyalty in these tough times. Like Australia, we have not succumbed to a factory farming model. We have a British system, founded on seasonal grazing of our herds and people here have a perception of cows in fields. I am working to try and instil real value in that perception and connect with our customers. You might be interested to take a look at my website http://www.freerangedairy.org

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