Even though dairy prices were flying high when I took over the reins here as the hopeful but heavily indebted next generation in 2008, the Global Financial Crisis was already forming.
I could see the international commodity prices were going into freefall but, as late as October, our factory rep said there was no need to worry, our milk price wasn’t affected.
A few weeks later, as farmers were congregating for Christmas parties, the announcement came that our milk price could no longer defy gravity. From February, it would be 40 per cent lower. It was the first time the price had dropped like that in more than 30 years.
The entire industry kicked into action. Dairy Australia offered information sessions on budgeting and cost control measures while bankers rushed to refinance loans. I was impressed. It was a crisis but we all pulled together.
The fallout from the 2016 dairy crisis is different. There’s been the same flurry of post-crisis activity from Dairy Australia and the bankers but farmers want more than that and, two years later, we have not “moved on” like we did last time.
This morning, I woke to a flurry of activity on Twitter provoked by an opinion piece in The Weekly Times by farm consultant, John Mulvany.
John takes the lash to processors and farmer representative body, the UDV, saying both know there are big problems but are refusing to act.
“If nothing happens the industry will continue to decline and cost of production will rise. The lack of action by those who can create change is ‘underwhelming’.”
– John Mulvany, The Weekly Times
I agree with John entirely, to this point but he loses me in the following and final sentences:
“They know they can achieve a better industry. But their short-term vision and focus on career paths have created a roadblock.”
I think that’s unfair and missing the real problem. The farmers who volunteer their time to make things happen are routinely rewarded for their efforts by getting slammed relentlessly on social media. Some of it gets pretty personal, too.
As one active volunteer and farmer, Lauren Peterson, tweeted, “…some of us haven’t given up but will if keep tearing us down. We’re not the enemy”.
The real problem is that, unless you’re one of the sheltered few already in some form of life-raft, it’s every man (and woman) for himself now. Not enough of us believe that change is even possible. We are too hurt, afraid and angry.
I’m not blaming anyone for that – I often feel much the same – but it’s hardly the mindset needed for cooperation, negotiation and innovation.
Ironically, processors fighting for our milk are unlikely to provide the leadership needed in case it’s not well received and they lose supply. Much safer to work behind the scenes recruiting key supply with special deals and locking in the masses with sign-on incentives.
What will be the circuit breaker?