Group seeks farmers’ support

By Sophie Baldwin

The push from a group of northern Victorian dairy farmers to pool their milk and supply it to the processor willing to pay the most sustainable price has gained momentum after United We Stand dairy farmers hosted a meeting in Kyabram last week.

More than 50 farmers attended to hear the group outline its plans for the future and offer their feedback.

To date UWS has more than 120million litres of milk pledged from different-sized farms across the state and is fielding calls daily from other concerned farmers.

The group has also received calls from other milk pool collectives across the country.

Group spokesman Steve Hawken from Bamawm addressed the meeting and said change in the industry was long overdue.

‘‘Processors are scrambling for supply and this is probably one of the best opportunities we have had in a long time to implement some change and secure a sustainable future for our industry,’’ Mr Hawken said.

‘‘We are all sick of borrowing money to survive and then having to turn around to work twice as hard to pay it back.

‘‘All of us in this room here today need a fair, sustainable and equitable price.

‘‘The wheels are falling off the dairy industry and it is time to do something positive about it.’’

Guest speaker John Bell reiterated the group’s stance that industry change is long overdue.

‘‘Nothing has changed in the industry for the last 50 years. It is time for farmers to unite, and at the end of the day if we all work together we can go from price takers to price makers and take control of the profits and push up the price of milk,’’ Mr Bell said.

He said a milk shortfall in the industry of 1.3million litres for processors Saputo and Fonterra was a significant opportunity.

‘‘If UWS can attract a significant percentage of milk, we will have a serious negotiating point moving forward.

‘‘This has been a positive meeting and it is pleasing to hear there are similar groups with similar thoughts — which is a reflection of where the industry is at.’’

Strathmerton dairy farmer Julian Pinnuck has been involved in the dairy industry for 35 years.

He milks 200-300 cows and decided to attend the meeting because his business is going backwards.

‘‘This is our third year as a non-profitable dairy farm and that’s just got to stop,’’ he said.

‘‘We won’t be able to continue if things stay the way we are, we need a better price. I think the concept UWS are putting forward might work and a change in the dairy industry is well and truly long overdue.’’

Peter Lawlor milks 500 cows at Yalca.

His 28-year-old son has taken over the running of the family farm.

‘‘We have survived the millennium drought, the global financial crisis and the Murray Goulburn disaster, being price takers the whole way along. The tide needs to turn and we need to become price makers or none of us will be around in the future,’’ Mr Lawlor said.

He said if there was another drought this year, the industry would simply be wiped out.

‘‘Processors have been upgrading their plants while paying us a pittance while the industry is on its knees,’’ Mr Lawlor said.

UWS has been working with the ACCC to formalise the group.

It is also exploring potential opportunities, aside from supplying a processor.

‘‘Negotiations are still at play, but we are mindful that some farmers will be looking for a home for their milk at the end of the financial year, including myself,’’ Mr Hawken said.

‘‘Personally, I won’t be signing any long-term supply contracts if this process takes a little longer.’’

Mr Hawken also said the group was looking at establishing bulk-buy options for inputs including power, insurance, solar panels and even feed.

‘‘This is a very much ‘watch this space’,’’ he said.

Fonterra and Saputo were contacted by Country News for comment but neither replied.