I am not Farmer of the Year, just Ms Average Australian Dairy Farmer, with around 260 milkers doing a respectable 7000 litres each on 500 rain-fed acres. But the ground is shifting beneath my feet. Although family farms make up 98% of Australian dairy right now, the big corporates are moving in and moving people like me on. Continue reading
If you live in the big Australian states there’s a real chance the milk on your Weeties has to be trucked across the Nullabor or over the Murray. Why? Continue reading
The Kiwis already have one. We need one too and Aussie dairy farmers are calling on people power to win it next Monday.
A free trade agreement with China is the difference between being truly competitive, or not, in one of the world’s most important markets for Aussie dairy. The peak body for Australian dairy farmers, appropriately named Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) is leading a social media campaign to get the deal done.
ADF CEO Natalie Collard answered some questions on the campaign. Continue reading
Does Australian milk matter? We have to decide.
It seems two of Australia’s milk processors, United Dairy Power and Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, are about to be sold to China. Firms backed by the Chinese government are having unofficial talks that would put the price of WCB at a staggering $10 per share. Meanwhile, the ruthless but charming Canadians continue to acquire a bigger stake of WCB.
Here, close to home, another Chinese firm has already purchased a formerly decommissioned factory and is repackaging milk powder to send back to China. (It’s been a debacle, with outraged and distraught workers regularly featured in the local papers desperate to be paid.)
It’s not limited to the dairy processing sector, either. The Chinese have been buying up our breeding stock for years and now, they want our farms, as Brett Cole reports in the Business Spectator:
“For more than a year, China Investment Corporation has contemplated acquiring Van Diemen’s Land Co, which owns and operates 25 dairy farms with 30,000 dairy stock. Other Chinese companies have moved decisively amid concerns about their nation’s safety standards.”
All this while our Australian farmer co-op, currently the highest bidder for WCB, languishes in the competition tribunal as it ponders – for months – whether we are allowed to bid at all.
Do you care? If you’re a dairy farmer, hell yes, you should. No foreign company cares about your future like you do or your co-op does. Perhaps worse still, once these assets are sold, the fragmentation and inefficiency of our processing sector is locked in, forever limiting the price farmers are paid for our milk.
If you’re not a farmer but an Aussie, there’s an awful lot to be lost. These international companies and governments so keen to pay more than twice the value of WCB are not irrational. They want control of their food. Does that matter to you?
There’s been a bit of biffo on Twitter and on dairy farming forums of late. Some people are clearly very angry with our leaders. Others are polite but rather bluntly say “suck it up, princess”.
I’m in between.
I want to be among the top 10 per cent of Australia’s dairy farmers. Not because I am a nutty type A personality but because only the top 10 per cent make a good living. So, tonight I’m up late wrangling spreadsheets, casting a sharp eye over our budgets and trying to benchmark our performance.
That doesn’t stop me from wanting better from our politicians so that Victorian dairy farmers get a fair go. We’re not subsidised like our US or European competitors and we don’t have a free trade agreement with China like the world’s best dairy farmers across the Tasman, so we need to be lean, efficient and smart to survive.
To do that, we need:
- relief from the carbon tax that puts us at an instant disadvantage
- a more level playing field. Forget subsidising cars and get on with the China FTA.
- to deal with the duopoly
- most of all, to invest in ag R&D.
Being smart has historically been our strength, but no longer. Sue Neales of The Australian reports that:
“Australia’s spending on agricultural R&D has also dropped internationally from 9th to 16th place, according to a global study presented at the same conference.”
“Treasury last year predicted the value of agriculture to the nation could grow from its current size equivalent to 2.5 per cent of national gross domestic product, to 5 per cent by 2050, surpassing the manufacturing sector.”
If we are destined to become agricultural dunces, dairy farmers battling to survive on a tilted playing field will never manage the growth needed to make Australia Asia’s food bowl.
It’s been an amazing week. First, milk processor Lion, came right out and said the unthinkable – that a milk price below the cost of production was “fair” and that there need to be fewer dairy farmers in Queensland and New South Wales.
Then, yesterday, Sue Neales (follow her @BushReporter on Twitter) of The Australian reported that “Desperate Australian dairy farmers are looking to fly fresh milk directly into Asia to deprive Coles and Woolworths of their unassailable market power.”.
In Sue Neales’ story, Dairy Connect farmers’ group president Adrian Drury said: “We are telling the supermarkets that they mightn’t always have easy access to fresh milk and that they take us for granted at their peril in their push to force milk prices down.”.
What does that mean for you, the milk drinker?
To put it bluntly, you might find yourself drinking UHT milk rather than fresh milk sooner than I expected. Rumours are rife in dairy-land that Coles is keen to shift you from the fridge to the aisles when it comes to picking up your milk. Coles has quite a contingent of European executives these days, where the move from fresh to UHT has been spectacularly successful for the supermarkets. According to Wikipedia, 7 out of 10 Europeans regularly drink UHT rather than fresh milk.
Why UHT? For supermarkets, the benefits of stocking UHT are huge. It lasts longer, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and, best of all, it can be sourced from far away, increasing their range of supply.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask? After all, there’s evidence that UHT is greener (given it doesn’t need to be refrigerated) and it is still good for you (read more about UHT here, if you like). Question is, do you want to be able to choose?
PS: If The Australian won’t let you read Sue’s story, Google the headline Farmers’ bid to end duopoly milk run and you should be able to read the lot.