Outgoing co-CEO of eastAUS Milk, Shaughn Morgan, launched one last broadside in protection of the dairy industry as he warned the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to remain wary of Coles' incursion into milk processing.
The regulator has yet to approve the purchase by Coles Group Limited of the former Murray Goulburn plants at Erskine Park and Laverton North, Vic, lately subsumed by Saputo Dairy Australia.
If the deal goes ahead it will be a first by one of the major supermarkets, although both Coles - which introduced $1 a litre milk in 2011 - and Woolworths have long bought direct from their own pool of suppliers, under contracts that have often led the way for improved farmgate prices.
Effective lobbying that included consumer support has now resulted in a supermarket price for home-branded milk of $1.60/l.
"That's still undervalued in our minds for a nutritious product with 12 vitamins and calcium, especially for the children and the elderly," Mr Morgan said.
The production of milk continues to fall - with alarming figures showing a continuing drop in milk produced from 11 billion litres a year to 8.5b litres.
"There is continued reduction in the industry," he said.
"In NSW it has gone from over 1700 farms in the year 2000 to under 500 farms now while in Victoria the number of dairy farms has fallen by more than half to about 3500 farms."
"Many farmers are exiting the industry or selling their assets to corporates or moving on to other commodities like beef," Mr Morgan said
As farmers left the industry all through the drought, bushfires and floods the vacuum of supply demanded by burgeoning south-east Queensland ensured a steady supply of milk trucks heading north from Victoria - which continues to provide the majority of Queensland's milk.
Nevertheless subtropical dairy farmers are also lining-up to exit the industry. Input costs in that climate are higher for the production delivered. The number of farms in Queensland have fallen from a high of 600 in 2010 to 270 today.
"Queensland is a net importer of milk because they can't produce enough. That is a concern," Mr Morgan said. "As a nation we must prevent the decline of milk production and yet with Coles taking over two processing plant from Saputo they now have complete charge of the supply chain."
Mr Morgan, who closed the lid of his desktop computer on Friday, described the business deal as having the ability to "change the dynamic in the processing of fresh milk".
"The ACCC must ensure that there are no negative impacts upon the Australian dairy industry" he said, "Especially given the declining milk production and farmers exiting the industry over the past years."
Mr Morgan, said that "ACCC has a long track record of involvement in the dairy industry having completed its major dairy review in 2018 and now overseeing the Mandatory Dairy Code of Conduct."
Looking forward, the NSW Government's election promise and funding approval for a specific dairy and horticulture commissioner bodes well, and will "be the template for other states to emulate".
"At least Coles has a better understanding of milk than most," Mr Morgan said. "They know they need to shore-up supply."