‘Why’, you might well ask, am I getting involved in this issue? I am not a dairy farmer and rely on buying milk from the supermarkets and shops like most of us in Australia.
I am city born and live in South East Queensland, my home for the last 15 years. I teach about food and agriculture, my passions in life. I can honestly say what drives me to keep teaching is the absolute motivation I get from the interaction with students; frustration sometimes, but largely they keep me incredibly inspired. The school I teach at is part of a great community and agriculture keeps the wheels turning, particularly in the areas of production horticulture, cattle and some dairy-farming.
Several months ago I wrote a post called ‘The Milk Wars Will Hurt Us All’, inspired by a couple of amazing young men from a dairy family I know. These are the sort of students that make you feel like the future will be in stable hands. As I have got to know them, listen to their opinions, and investigate more, I began to see the travesty of fairness in a supply chain where supermarket discounting is in fact leading the farmer into the mire with the cows behind. Each state has their own issues, but I believe the acceptance of ‘cheap’ will backfire on the customer as well.
My quest for background knowledge for this petition has led me to conversations with many people and recently I attended the annual conference of the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation. In QLD alone, over 45 dairies have shut down since the discounting began by Coles in January 2011 and northern NSW is not faring well either. You may imagine it might be little operators crunching under the strain of prices unrepresentative of the true cost of production; this is not the case (see – http://www.maitlandmercury.com.au/story/396101/the-high-cost-of-cheaper-milk/). Neither is it just an issue for the Northern regions either. Cheap generic milk is influencing the production of milk in its own way around Australia. There are some dairies doing successfully who don’t rely on the supermarkets and they are holding good prices for a good product.
So what would I like you to know?
- Consumers need to understand that discounting milk is putting fresh milk supplies in Australia at risk. This is a supermarket agenda that doesn’t reflect the true cost of production.It started with Coles and straight away, other retailers followed suit, because this is about market share. It is about getting you, the consumer, through the door to spend.
- Even with every level of care taken by farmers to increase production efficiency, the $1.00 per litre paid by customers is devaluing the industry and sending farmers broke. A healthy functioning business cannot thrive on a price that is totally unprofitable. We wouldn’t work for a pittance a day; why would a dairy farmer be any different?
- Whilst the supermarkets such as Coles hold a 70 percent market share of milk sales in Australia, there is no guarantee of an endless supply of cheap generic milk. It is more likely that the consumer will ultimately end up with higher prices, less choice and the definite possibility of more UHT and more expensive milk. This is a reality in places such as the UK.
- We need to be looking after the people who are looking after our supply of fresh foods such as milk. Our population is increasing and we need to encourage the young to continue to join the ranks. I was impressed to see so many young farmers present at the QDO conference. These people need encouragement and incentive to continue this important job. Coles certainly don’t have this as a focus!
The Aim of the Petition
I directed this petition at the management of Coles, who made the decision, on January 26th of last year, to begin the discounting of their generic full cream milk to $1.oo a litre. I believe this is a reprehensible act that is helping to decimate an industry Australians rely on for their milk supply. It serves no one but the interest of the supermarket. I would like Coles to understand that we understand that both the dairy farmer and ultimately the customer will not benefit in the long-term when milk prices do not reflect the true cost of sustainable production.
I seek a win/win situation for all. I believe that a compromise could be reached between all parties by raising the price of generic milk to a rate that seeks a sustainable return for all. I don’t believe generic milk will go away, but I believe if Coles were to sit down and negotiate with all members of the supply chain, something significant could be achieved.
Until there is some change in this situation, then the best way for dairy farmers and consumers to form an alliance for the long-term sustainability of fresh milk for all is to choose a branded milk they enjoy. There is a brand out there for everyone’s taste and requirement. The more we buy into the myth of cheap milk, the more stress we place on a sustainable fresh milk supply.
It is your choice where you shop. In fact, depending on where you live, there may not be the opportunity to have a choice. The best thing to do is to choose a branded milk. A little more for each litre is good for us all in the long-term, for an incredibly nutritious product.
The petition can be found here – https://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/coles-up-the-price-of-generic-brand-milk-to-a-sustainable-rate-of-return-for-all
I dedicate this post to Tyson and Jayden and for every other young person wishing to continue the important job of dairying.
Tyson and dad Steve.
There are some great people out there with some interesting things to say on the topic of dairying in Australia and our beautiful dairy products.
May the stall never empty….