Withhold supply to get fair milk price, says Strathmerton dairy farmer

By Country News

Dairy farmers have one bargaining chip.

And that’s the milk they put in their vats, according to Strathmerton dairy farmer Greg Brooks.

He firmly believes the dairy industry doesn’t have the ability to offer Australian milk at a price reflective of the farm gate cost and consumers aren’t given a clear choice to choose Australian products because supermarkets manipulate branding and shelf space access to suit themselves.

Mr Brooks said dairy farmers needed a seat at the negotiation table when it came to setting milk price — and $8/kg of milk solids was where it was at.

He believes putting pressure on processors will in turn make them fight harder for the industry — after all, they have no business without milk.

‘‘As an industry we don’t value our product enough. We are too accepting of our lot and that’s not okay. We are coming off a season of a milk price well below the cost of production — and some people will say $8 is ridiculous, but conservatively that’s where it needs to be,’’ Mr Brooks said.

Mr Brooks said some farmers might argue they had no bargaining chips left.

‘‘Every farmer that goes out of business gives us a chip. It is certainly no good for communities and agriculture in general but this year the Australian dairy industry will produce their lowest volume of milk since deregulation and if that doesn’t ring alarm bells, I don’t know what will,’’ he said.

He firmly believes processors aren’t held to account and withholding milk supply will get a seat at the negotiation table.

‘‘I recently got an email from a group who have successfully pooled their milk for a better milk price and I believe this is on the right track. We don’t have to tip our milk down the drain, although I would certainly be prepared to do that if I had to get a point across.

‘‘We just need to do it with significant volumes.’’

Mr Brooks milks 300 cows.

He was recently driving around his farm on the motorbike, and a thought struck him.

‘‘I was looking around and I was thinking my wife and family work hard to help keep our business afloat. We are all under so much stress and I just thought, ‘this is not okay’. The average wage in Australia has gone from $34000 to $80000 (more than doubled) while a valuable product like milk has hardly gone up at all, in fact water is worth more than a litre of milk.’’

Mr Brooks is president of the Numurkah branch of the UDV and he has put a motion forward to the annual conference for a country-wide call to withhold milk supply.

‘‘There are no processors fighting for us, but if we put the screws on them they will, they will have to.

‘‘I am prepared to ride it out but that is only if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Some people have sold up and moved to high rainfall areas while others have sold their herds — people are sick of borrowing money to keep going.

‘‘The fundamental problem is the milk price has dropped a long way from the cost of production and that is not okay, we need to fight to pull it back.’’

Mr Brooks also acknowledged water was a huge problem which had contributed to inflated fodder cost and the cost of production.

‘‘We need to change the way we do things if we want an industry in the future, and we are going to have to fight for it,’’ he said.