DAIRY farmers are not only being urged to speak up now that a substantial fair trading review into their industry is underway but told they have an obligation to.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of $1-a-litre retail milk, credited with smashing farm profitability, and for the first time since there are real hopes throughout the embattled dairy industry that change might be possible.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry will look into the competitiveness of prices, trading practices and the supply chain and investigators have been given substantial powers to compel multinational companies to share information about decisions on farmgate prices and where profits in the dairy industry sit.
Launched last November on instruction from the Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison MP in the wake of controversial farmgate price ‘clawbacks’ by major southern processors, the wheels on the inquiry start turning in earnest next week with public forums organised in many dairying regions around the country.
Producers and industry groups hope the ACCC inquiry will instigate meaningful change, particularly to contractual arrangements, which they say is vital if there is to be sustainability in the game.
Key to that will be farmers telling their stories, they said.
Some are fearful that farmers are so disillusioned, and even weary of inquiries given this one is running alongside two other dairy investigations and a number of other agricultural industry market studies and inquiries, that they may forego the chance to provide evidence and information.
Anyone who can’t attend a meeting can still share concerns by calling or emailing the ACCC.
Peak NSW advocate group Dairy Connect says the inquiry provides a critical opportunity to introduce equity to an industry that operated today in a manner that many consider not far removed from modern serfdom.
Chief executive officer Shaughn Morgan said there had never been an opportunity such as this to restructure business relationships.
“We believe that with active participation from producers, large and small, we can set the industry up to take full advantage of opportunities arising from growing consumer demand domestically and in the Asia Pacific Region,” he said.
“Opportunities for change missed at this point may never come around again and I encourage all parts of the dairy value chain to become involved in the meetings.”
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Adam Jenkins said the inquiry was an important step on the path to reforming the dairy industry “so that we can make sure we don’t ever see a repeat of last year’s milk crisis.”
Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has added his voice to the call for farmers to get involved.
“We need farmers’ participation to get to the heart of the inquiry and to help uncover inefficiencies and inequities that our farmers face to identify a way forward,” he said.
The inquiry was in-depth and independent, involving broad consultation across all levels of the industry and across the supply chain, he said.
“It is examining competition between processors, contracting practices, market transparency and the retail pricing of dairy products,” Mr Joyce said..
“Our dairy farmers deserve fair returns at the farmgate, as well as transparency in milk price arrangements and supply contracts.”
Venues and times of forums have now been locked in.
- Monday 6 February, 11.30am-2pm, City Golf Club, Toowoomba, Queensland.
- Tuesday 7 February, 12pm-2pm, Club West, Taree, NSW.
- Tuesday 14 February, 11.30am-2pm, Princes Highway, Traralgon, Victoria.
- Monday 27 February, 11.30-2pm, Warrnambool Golf Club, Victoria.
- Tuesday 28 February, 6.30pm-8.30pm, Shepparton Golf Club, Victoria.
- Thursday 16 March, 12pm-2pm, 100 Old Coast Road, Pelican Point, Bunbury, Western Australia.
- Monday 20 March, 11.30am-2pm, Hahndorf Football Club, South Australia.
- Wednesday 22 March,11.30am-2pm, Burnie Golf Club, Camdale, Tasmania.