The dairy advocacy mess


At about the same time as The Weekly Times ran a scathing story claiming conflicts of interest in dairy advocacy, I’d been having a chat with a townie friend.

Friend: “Sorry you are going through such a tough time. Is the dairy industry running an advocacy campaign?”

Me: “No. Well, yes. Actually, not really.”

Friend: “Pardon?”

Me: “Well, Dairy Australia, the people with the money and the smarts aren’t allowed to spend it on stuff like thanking consumers for paying a fair price for milk, butter and cheese.”

Friend: “Why not?”

Me: “Because the money farmers give them to promote dairy is matched by government, so that means they can’t say anything that might seem political, like ‘thank you for caring’ or ‘dollar milk has to stop’.”

Friend: “But isn’t that what Barnaby Joyce said?”

Me: “Yes, but…I don’t know…”

Friend: “There must be a union or some sort of professional body that can run an advocacy campaign?”

Me: “Yeah, there’s the UDV, the VFF and the ADF. The UDV has been trying really hard but most of its money goes to the VFF and the ADF. The VFF is ‘in a relationship’ with Coles, the people who started the dollar milk thing. Meanwhile, the ADF has been busy with personnel changes and we have to remember that a big chunk of its money comes from the processors.”

Friend: “That’s a relief then because obviously the processors will want to sell more of their own branded milk at a fair price.”

Me: “Umm, the biggest processor’s chairman wrote a letter to all the papers supporting discounted milk.”

Friend: “Hang on, what did you say?”

Me: “Evidently, there isn’t enough money in the supply chain to pay farmers properly but if you make milk cheaper and still sell the same amount, that makes all the difference.”

Friend: “To who?”

Me: “I don’t know – that’s strictly between the processor and the supermarket – nothing to do with farmers at all. They’ll let us know if there’s anything left over. And if there isn’t, there’s sure to be some kind of support ‘not-a-loan’ loan for us.”

Friend: “How very reassuring.”

Me: “Indeed.”

Friend: “Well, if you’re not happy about it, why don’t you put up your hand to help change things?”

Me: “Look, I’m an average dairy farmer. I’ve got two young children, a farm that’s still being redeveloped, plus the off-farm work. I can’t fit in policy meetings as well. Besides, have you seen the way people like me treat our farm leaders on social media? Who’d volunteer for that?”

Friend: “See what you mean. So the people who are doing it?”

Me: “Got to be game as Ned Kelly, have the hide of a crocodile and a heart of gold to do it and do it well. There just aren’t many of those characters left.”

9 thoughts on “The dairy advocacy mess

  1. Well done! Best article I have read all week and it puts some dark humor in there as well. What a terribly deep rooted sorry state of affairs the whole collection of “interested parties” in the dairy industry and the interwoven dealings, possible conflicts of interest, PR representations versus misrepresentations ad nauseum has become over the last decade or so.

    It took a sudden unexpected severe milk price drop to bring so many unsavoury matters to light and when the light went on in Canberra it really was a ‘wtf’ moment and so the regulators are off to do some hunting and potentially seek to lay blame and maybe redress with some rules, regulations or legislation. Maybe some of the blame rests with those same regulatory groups for being so evangelistic about competition and a free market. It seems like some aren’t as grown-up and mature in their dealings as they first thought and a free market has allowed mayhem to reign (Lord of the flies).

    Even Ned Kelly might shy away from taking this one on.

    I include in, but its not exhaustive, that list of “interested parties” in no particular order:
    UDV and all other state equivalents
    Farmers Federation
    Dairy Australia
    Fresh Agenda
    Farmer Power
    Coles Woolworths
    Various lobby groups

    Imagine being an industry outsider (or consumer) trying to see who is telling the truth and who prefers pork pies. And to make matters worse some of the journos have interesting pasts but not always disclosed when putting their articles out in to the public domain.

    We love that Maid Marian can bring clarity to many confusing matters as well as keeping them honest, as much as she and her peers can and do.


    • I would be suspicious that “redress with some rules, regulations or legislation” will probably put more onus and costs on the farmer. Be pretty sure the processors will pass the cost back if they can’t get it from price increases. Be even more of a sorry mess.


      • This is the exact issue that needs to be fixed.
        What happens now is the processor goes to the farm and signs them up with a vague promise of a price for the farmers milk, but then there is a clause of some kind in the contract that says the price can be varied given some kind of notice.
        Then the processor bits for the contract to supply milk say to a supermarket. The processor knows that if they price their milk too high they won’t get the contract.
        The supermarket gets cheap milk, the processor takes their cut and the farmer gets screwed.
        So who owns the milk?
        The farmers, the processor or the supermarket.
        These contracts that being presented to the farmer need to be turned on their head, with the farmers taking control and setting up coops to control the negotiations and the processors contracted to only to process the milk.


  2. I Believe what you have said pretty much sums up the dairy industry in Australia.
    Too many self interested groups and nothing gets done.
    We even have it in NSW . Dairy Connect broke away from NSW Farmers to better represent the whole of the Dairy Industry in NSW but instead of NSW Farmers recognising this and working with Dairy Connect they seem to be running interference.
    We need united dairy lobby groups in Australia if it doesn’t happen then we will be continually picked off and ignored.
    Forget your little power groups and let’s begin to work together for all the farmers who are suffering under the supermarkets and processors who rip off the margins and give the farmer what little is left over.
    Dairy End


  3. And again this is another justification for the National Milk Pool. There is not currently any Independent voice for dairyfarmers that is not tainted in some way or other by outside influences


  4. Speaking from an ex dairy farmers (of two months) point of view… The best thing farmers can do to fix this problem is …let the milk go down the drain for a week or so… The short term pain would be nothing compared to the long term pain dairy farmers are going through….


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