No delight in dairy price

Dairy producers frustrated by lack of investment


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When Norco “jumped” and offered its North Coast and southern Queensland cooperative members another five cents a litre late last week, there were some who rea...

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When Norco “jumped” and offered its North Coast and southern Queensland cooperative members another five cents a litre late last week, there were some who reacted in support –  like Richmond Dairies at Casino and Real Dairy at Wauchope who also raised their base price.

Ben Gould, a dairy farmer at Greenridge via Casino, says a few cents a litre band-aid fix  over  a couple months isn't enough to make the industry sustainable.

Ben Gould, a dairy farmer at Greenridge via Casino, says a few cents a litre band-aid fix over a couple months isn't enough to make the industry sustainable.

Other processors held back, hoping for government action in conjunction with the supermarkets.

Norco CEO Greg McNamara said it was not in his members’ best interest to wait and hope.

“You can’t take the farmer out of Norco,” he said. “We don’t wait for government to act. We take action. It’s like watching a man being strangled. You don’t hope for help – you do something straight away.”

North Coast and mid-coast producers outside the protection of a co-operative umbrella and who are paid up to 20c/l less for their product are disappointed the likes of Norco didn’t stand firm with corporate processors to force government’s hand on the proposed 10c/l price increase to ease drought suffering.

“A temporary price rise is only a band-aid fix,” said Greenridge dairyman Ben Gould, a Parmalat supplier who, like a lot of other intensive producers, pays anything up to $20,000 a quarter for electricity, particularly during paddock irrigation.

You can’t take the farmer out of Norco. We don’t wait for government to act. We take action. It’s like watching a man being strangled. You don’t hope for help – you do something straight away. - Norco CEO Greg McNamara

Natasha Yarrington, chair of the Mid Coast Dairy Advancement Group, said her seventh generation family enterprise at Dollys Flat near Wingham had cut so far back in order to survive that it was difficult to believe the farm would be passed on in better condition.

“It’s depressing,” she says noting that she and her husband Rod pay themselves about $4.20 an hour for a combined 115 hour work week.

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“We have chosen to do that because we want our business to continue. We want to hand it over to our children.”

Cents per litre paid for farmgate milk is only a rough guide to success, and there are greater costs associated with dairy the further north you go.

But suffice to say that anything above 60c/l helps a farm pay back debt and prepare for the future.

Tim Bale, chair of the Taree Collective Bargaining Group in the Manning Valley, says at sustainable prices producers will spend money to make money and the local business community benefits more than government or banks.

“A fair price does make a difference,” he says. “Producers in our group on that money have re-invested in robotic dairies and new calf-rearing sheds. Others have bought new milking machines."

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