Down Old Creamery Lane at the back of Berry on the South Coast, you walk down a history of dairying - from the first site of commercial butter in NSW to the latest bold attempt to process local co-op milk.
Unfortunately, the dream of South Coast Dairy's processing venture has hit a hump, with the plant closed down two weeks ago and 13 workers put out of work after the brand was sold to Australasian Dairies. The South Coast Dairy plant was only opened in 2016.
The plant is still being ticked over and is processing a small amount of milk, but the bulk of milk from the Berry Rural Co-Op (its history goes back to 1911) is now sent to Sydney and processed by Nepean River Dairy.
The award-winning South Coast Dairy brand will kick on and its new owners say it will actually expand the range.
The Berry Dairy Bar next door to the plant is still using the South Coast Dairy milk in its business and producing extra creamy gelato. "It's the best milk, incredibly creamy," says Sarah Lewis, whose family also own The Treat Factory. "We are getting deliveries as normal."
The brand though has lost some northern Illawarra distribution in the shake-up, but everything is the same from Berry south, with supplies at Berry's IGA in situ and at Coles and Woolies on the South Coast.
It was very difficult decision for the Co-op board to sell its brand. Unfortunately it said it hit "financial difficulties". The decison gutted co-op chairman John Miller, one of the main suppliers to the Co-op. His dairy herd graze the grass on the fields opposite the plant, and his family have been dairying in Berry right back to 1832.
Mr Miller has privately said one of the major issues was various entities not paying their bills to the co-op within the required 60 days.
"The restraints of a small processing plant plus our ever-growing market, combined with financial difficulties.led us to this outcome. With its (Australaisian Dairies) direction, we can finally see our milk reaching its full potential as we envisaged years ago," a Board statement said.
Former dairy farmer and supplier to the co-op Steve King said the bold move into self-processing hit a snag at the start when the plant machinery was found to be wanting. "It was really only good for processing water, not milk, so quite a lot had to be replaced," he said.
The Dairy complex was lauded by Shoalhaven City Council as one of the great business success stories in the Nowra region. It is believed the brand was sold for $200,000.
The new owners of the brand, Australasian Diries is a little known business that only recently was mainly producing cartons of liquid egg white. It has a contact listing at both Milperra and at Dubai. Berry Co-op says it is 100 per cent Australian owned.
The Land understands that some of its directors have decades of experience in the Australian dairy industry, tracing their involvement back to Dairy Farmers of old.
South Coast Dairy was a member of the dairy farmer member group Dairy Connect. Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughan Morgan said he was saddened to hear the processing plant had closed.
"It is with sadness that we note the closure of the South Coast Dairy at Berry, which could trace its history back to 1895," Mr Morgan told The Land. "It is hoped that the plant and its steel at Berry may be used for other ventures in the future and is not lost altogether to the community and the many jobs that depend upon its operations.
"The NSW dairy industry is losing far too many dairy farmers, many of whom are walking away from their farming enterprises, and it is of paramount urgency that we find ways to keep these dairy farmers on their farms to ensure the availability of fresh milk into the future.
"With the demise of another NSW dairy cooperative we are in the invidious position of only having one major cooperative remaining in this State, being Norco.
We need to ensure that the small farmer dairy processor, both in NSW and in other States, are supported and encouraged.
"The days of member owned cooperatives appears to be an unfortunate part of the consolidation of the major corporate processors but we need to ensure that the small farmer dairy processor, both in NSW and in other States, are supported and encouraged by State and Federal governments and their industry bodies, who have an obligation to advocate on their behalf.
"The commencement of the review of the Mandatory Dairy Code, will provide an opportunity to put forward the case for further safeguards of farmer dairy processors and cooperatives generally. As cooperatives cease to exist, collective bargaining groups will start to play an even more important role in dairy farmer discussions with their corporate processors."