Coles Farmers’ Fund is anything but a fund for farmers by farmers


The Coles Farmers’ Fund is perfect material for a stand-up comedian really.

Step 1. Using your massive market power, you send the price of milk down, down, down and dismiss the pleadings of farmers as ignorance.

Step 2. Next, you secure a 10-year deal with MG to source cheap milk while saying it’s a great deal for farmers.

Step 3. When history brings MG’s credibility to its knees and farmers down with it, consumers fall out of love with cheap milk and Coles. So what do you do?:

a) respond by restoring the price of milk to sustainable levels; OR
b) maintain the discount on milk and begin a “Down, down…” campaign targeting cheese as well; OR
c) come up with a farmer-endorsed PR stunt that costs you nothing but wins you back sales lost to branded products?

Well, bless you Coles. Presented with the easy option of permanently fixing the problem you created with solution a) you’ve instead gone with a devilish combination of b) and c).

Call me an ungrateful, whingeing farmer but…
I think I have cause for concern. The Coles Farmers’ Fund has been designed by Coles marketing executives for Coles, not farmers:

  • The cheap milk has brought the value of all milk down (check the numbers for yourself in my previous post) and no more milk is sold today than before Coles drove the price down. This Farmers’ Fund will do nothing to address the cause of the problem.
  • Only a few farmers will be awarded any funding – not the thousands who need a fair price.
  • The fund only applies to farm improvements and, this year, most farmers are in survival mode – money is needed to pay the basic bills. Farmers simply need to be paid a proper price for their milk.
  • A group of unnamed VFF people will decide who receives the funds. Transparency and accountability is sorely lacking.
  • Only the consumers who care about farmers will buy this milk, so it’s likely to further damage branded milk sales, redirecting sales straight back to Coles.

Contempt for dairy leaders
And it didn’t even matter that the peak dairy bodies were apparently opposed to the stunt: Coles simply gazumped the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria and Australian Dairy Farmers by garnering endorsement by the VFF. A stunning coup for Coles. A sickening own goal by the VFF.

Call me an ungrateful, whingeing hypocrite of a farmer but…
After first deciding against applying to the Farmers’ Fund, I changed my mind.

Fellow farmer Dianne Bowles argued convincingly that as many farmers as possible should apply, demonstrating the need for support and the value that even small change for a supermarket can have on farm. So there, it’s done.

This may have been a very expensive blog post for me and my family but one I simply had to write. If I get funding, I’ll be quick to let you know.

UPDATE 26/10/16: I was astonished to receive a preliminary email today advising that our farm has been successful with its application. If you haven’t already submitted an application, I highly recommend you do for the next round. Thank you to the VFF committee for approving our project.