IF YOU want fresh milk with your cereal in the future, you’ll have to get your own cow.
That is if our dairy farmers take up Dairy UK boss Jim Begg’s suggestion and abandon liquid milk as their primary focus and turn instead to value-added products such as cheese and ice-cream, turning the left-overs into long-life UHT milk.
Addressing farmers at Casino on Monday, Mr Begg said their best chance of surviving a deregulated dairy market was to look at liquid milk as the “last use” of their produce.
Mr Begg held up the European dairy industry as an exemplar, saying “in Europe they eat their milk”.
He said what they did drink was UHT, which could be sold as a premium product.
“Even though it doesn’t taste very good, it offers an added facility to the consumer,” he said.
Mr Begg’s message, accompanied by a warning that deregulation was here to stay and farmers had to adjust to the new consumer-driven market, was received poorly by the crowd.
Dairy farmer and Lismore councillor Peter Graham said the presentation offered farmers “nothing but drivel”.
“We have to cop it and are told we have to become more efficient, but I have no control over my power bills and interest rates,” he said.
“I have got a freaking big debt and it’s scaring me.”
Ironically, the returns received by domestic dairy farmers are tumbling at a time when the world price for milk is soaring.
Mr Graham didn’t want to be told to make cheese in an industry structured to supply drinking milk to northern NSW and south-east Queensland. He wanted to know how farmers could fight Coles and Woolies and get a fair price.
Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce and Tuncester dairy farmer and Farmers Federation dairy committee member Paul Weir both have some ideas on that front.
Senator Joyce, who met Mr Begg and a group of local dairy farmers in Lismore on Monday, said he wanted tougher regulations so the ACCC could go after supermarkets if they used their stronger position to exploit farmers.
Mr Weir thought the industry might have a better shot if it could bargain as a collective.
He said if the government wanted to help, it could legislate to allow farmers to bargain as a single collective otherwise the farmers could just get to it and see how big a collective they could get away with before the ACCC told them to stop.
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