Of course, Mike is right. You can’t walk into a shop and demand a box of cornflakes at a fraction of the cost.
You can’t cut someone’s wage because your business is losing money. Nor can farmers choose to pay less for stockfeed, electricity or shire rates just because the price of milk has fallen.
We dairy farmers are in a uniquely vulnerable position. We shoulder almost the entire risk in the dairy supply chain. It stinks. It’s grossly unfair. And when you read stories like Appreciating Australian Agriculture‘s below, it’s harrowing, too.
So, if we have both guts and brains, why do we let others set the price for our milk? The reality is that dairy farmers have little choice in the matter.
Why not stop sending milk? You cannot switch cows on and off. You have to milk them every day, no matter what, and their milk needs to be sold within two days. It can’t be stockpiled until buyers offer a reasonable price. Of course, you could sell all your cows but then how would you pay your mortgage?
Why not find a buyer who will pay more? Because there are only a handful of buyers and they all offer about the same deal. They tell you the price of your milk. If their sales strategy goes sour, you get paid less. Anyhow, right now, few milk processors around here are willing to take on new farmers. You’re stuck right where you are.
Why not sell the milk direct? Yes, a few farmers do. It costs a six-figure sum to set up a processing plant and takes about a year to get it approved by the regulators. Running that plant and marketing your dairy products is another full-time job on top of dairy farming. It’s also another completely new skill set. In any case, not many farmers have deep enough pockets to establish the plant and endure the inevitable losses during the time it takes to become commercially successful.
Why not just sell the farm and do something else? Well, that’s a question plenty of farmers are asking, too, but it can take years to sell a farm and we do it because we are good at it and we love being farmers.
The reality is that when a few thousand small family businesses sell a highly perishable commodity to a handful of very large corporations, the playing field is anything but even.