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.

Help for our dairy farmers and their cows

There certainly is light at the end of the financial tunnel for dairy farmers but many are still finding the going incredibly difficult.

I’m a tough old stick but there have been times in the last few months where things unravelled a bit before I could piece myself together again, so I know how it feels first-hand. For me, the saving grace has been to get help from our expert farm consultant, Neil, and build an action plan to insulate the cows from the fodder shortage.

It’s gone beyond that for some farmers who are in desperate positions. I asked Dairy Australia’s issues manager, Julie Iommi, what the dairy farming representative bodies are doing to help.

1. Anyone wishing to donate fodder or funds to buy fodder – please contact the UDV/VFF on 1300 882 833. Want to help but have no hay of your own? Farmer mental health dynamo, Alison Fairleigh, has linked her handy blog to “Buy a Bale“, an initiative of Aussie Helpers, where anyone can donate time or money for fodder to go to people who are in dire straits.

2. VFF, supported by ADF, is pushing the state government to immediately review the resourcing to the Rural Financial Counselling network to ensure they have the capacity to deal with current demand.

3. VFF, supported by ADF, has asked the state and federal governments to introduce the low interest loan support program immediately.

4. The state and federal governments have also been requested to review other forms of emergency support immediately.

5. VFF and ADF are also pushing the state and federal agriculture Ministers to meet the bank sector to encourage them to continue to take the long-term view when assessing their support of farm businesses.

Dairy Australia is promoting the Taking Stock program, which can help dairy farmers review their individual situations and create their own action plans – Julie says there are still around 50 spots available.

DA also has good info on its site about coping with fodder shortages.

Last of all, if you know someone who might be battling to stay afloat, why not drop them a line, phone or do the good old-fashioned thing and turn up with a cake? It might be just the lifeline they need without you ever knowing it.