Politicians meet farmers badly hit by dollar-a-litre milk

TOUGH TIMES: Dairy farmers with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie at Cleary's farm in Brombin near Wauchope.
TOUGH TIMES: Dairy farmers with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie at Cleary's farm in Brombin near Wauchope.

The Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud has been meeting local dairy farmers, at the invitation of Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie.

Dr Gillespie arranged a dairy industry forum at the Wauchope Country Club in which farmers from across the region joined with him in discussing some of the key issues and challenges currently being experience within the industry.

They also visited the Cleary’s dairy farm operations at Brombin near Wauchope.

Dairy farmer Leo Cleary says farmers deserve better than milk for a dollar.  A cigarette now costs more than a litre of milk.  He called for a code of conduct for the retail sector to act responsibly.

“Farmers need to have a fair price for their product so that they can care for their families, for the environment and for the welfare of their stock,” said Leo.

The Cleary family were buying corn months ago for less than $400 a tonne.  Now it is close to $700 a tonne.

Visiting farmers Heath and Jo Cook from Dorrigo are also concerned. 18 years ago, milk cost $1.50 a litre, but unlike other products, the price is down.

“Everyone knows that supermarkets use milk as a loss leader by selling it really cheaply. The Consumer Price Index is going up 2.5 to 3 per cent every year, and we have gone back.  We are only making a 0.1 per cent return,” said Heath.

“The consumer is saying: ‘We need to pay more.’  We are saying: ‘We need to get more for our milk.’ Yet the middle man, the retail sector, is controlling us.”

Also on the visit was Mike Jeffery, deputy chairman of Norco and a dairy farmer from Kempsey who is very concerned about the industry.

“There have been stable milk prices for a while, but the costs have been rapidly increasing and that’s put a lot of farmers under threat,” he said.

Hannam Vale farmer, Tim Bale said that as far as the government is concerned, there has to be support for the dairy industry.

“We need to move the base price of milk up.  A lot of families were in debt before the drought, and that has just made things worse,” he said.

Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud was keen to hear first-hand from local producers about what reforms they would like to see in the industry and how a code of conduct might look.  He said he was there to listen.

Dr Gillespie said the current returns to dairy farmers are unsustainable.

“I believe both the processors and retailers have not only a moral obligation, but also a national interest obligation to ensure farmers in the dairy industry remain sustainable, particularly during challenging times,” he added.

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