Walk in our shoes for a day Mr Morrison: dairy farmers

Norco dairy farmers unite in ditching $1/litre milk


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Norco dairy farmers explain why an increase in the farm gate milk price is essential for their survival.

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Dairy farmers have invited Prime Minister Scott Morrison to step into their shoes for the day to better understand why the 'measly' 10 cents/litre matters.

They called on Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to extend the invitation to the Prime Minister to support the dairy industry.

Around 20 dairy farmers voiced their concerns about the future of their industry to Mr Littleproud during his visit to the region with outgoing Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker and Nationals candidate Patrick Conaghan yesterday.

The farmers at the meeting say they did not hear anything new and no commitments were announced by Mr Littleproud at the dairy of Brett and Sue McGinn on Belmore River.

But what dairy farmers, who supply Norco, did was tell their story and explain why an increase in the farm gate milk price was essential for their sustainability.

"I extend an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit us to see what life is really like on a dairy farm," Belmore River dairy farmer Sue McGinn said.

"The community at large is prepared to pay the extra 10c per litre.

"It's frustrating to hear the Prime Minister come out on the side of consumers where he's wanting to keep milk cheap for families when that measly 10c/litre means so much to the survival of dairy farmers.

"I would love for the PM to come out and restate his position that he does support the industry and farmers who by in large are self employed...we are pouring money back into our communities."

In response Mr Littleproud said he would take the invitation back to the Prime Minister.

"The reality is it's not about $1 or 10c, it's about fairness," Mr Littleproud said.

"This is not the Australian way or what our nation is built on. These supermarkets have overstepped the mark."

The farmers also called on Mr Littleproud to keep the pressure on Coles and Aldi to ditch $1/litre milk.

Dorrigo dairy farmer Heath Cook, who milks 250 cows, said after the meeting it wasn't hard to see that the Government was scared heading into the election.

"It's going to be pretty close," he said.

"We've had a fair bit of attention today but a drowning man will grab onto anything.

"We will take anyone we can at this point in time if we can push our agenda."

Dairy commissioner

Taylors Arm dairy farmer Greg Desmond raised the issue that there needed to be someone policing any changed regulations of the industry.

In response Mr Littleproud said NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair was looking at a dairy commissioner from a state perspective.

Earlier this month, Mr Blair announced the appointment of an NSW Agriculture Commissioner who would be an advocate for better planning reforms and act as a guide to government on reducing unnecessary red tape.

The Commissioner will also support farmers "right to farm".

"He (Mr Blair) has been forceful with me to look at doing it federally," Mr Littleproud told the dairy farmers.

"I'm exploring the opportunity to do that."

Later in a media door stop, Mr Littleproud said it was not in his remit to establish a dairy commissioner but it was the remit of the treasurer.

"Niall Blair is passionate about this...we hope to get something up sooner rather than later," he said.

"There are mechanism we are exploring to help compliment what Niall Blair is doing."

He urged the farmers at the meeting they needed to have one united voice when it came to raising concerns with the government.

"You need to make sure you have strong leadership, if too many groups come to government at different angles, well we go if you can't decide on what direction to take, how can we," he said.

On a NSW state level, NSW Labor leader Michael Daley has committed to establishing a Dairy and Fresh Food Pricing Advocate with a dedicated unit to investigate and report on contracts and prices across the dairy and fresh food supply chain.

This Advocate would also work with the sector to find opportunities for collective or co-operative arrangements between producers, processors, wholesalers and big retailers.

NSW Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party member Robert Borsak said it would also support the establishment of a stand-alone commissioner for the dairy market or any other position with delegated powers that would have the interest of the industry at heart

Floor price

Labor has committed, if it is elected in Government, it will investigate a floor price for dairy farmers. The floor price would be set region-by-region, above the production cost of milk in each district.

But Mr Littleproud said yesterday it was a "cruel hoax" putting in a floor price.

"The last floor price we had was the wool industry and it didn't work well...it's reckless to agriculture," Mr Littleproud said.

Supermarkets

Farmers at yesterday's meeting called on Mr Littleproud to continue to push Coles and Aldi to ditch $1/litre milk.

On February 19, Woolworths removed $1/l fresh milk by increasing the price on all 2/l and 3/l varieties of its branded fresh milk to $2.20 and $3.30 respectively.

"Keep pushing the agenda to positively discriminate in favour of Woolworths everytime you are in front of a camera, everytime you have the public ear, it's important to support the people who are supporting us," Heath Cook said.

"None of us here will benefit from the Woolworths contract but we are so happy that someone is having a crack, it's a step in the right direction.

"It might be a long journey but we are heading down the right path."

Littleproud's promise

Mr Littleproud vowed to those farmers at Kempsey, he would continue fighting for the dairy industry.

"I'd rather sit here and look you in the eye and say what I can do, rather than make some political gain off your misfortune," he said.

"The easy thing for me to do is fly here and tell you what you want to hear but I don't want to do this.

"I want to tell you want we can do.

"I'm committed to it, I'm in boots and all, I'm that far in I can't get out."

Mr Littleproud committed he would be meeting with Coles soon, who wanted a round table.

He said Coles had reached out and wanted to sit down to find a solution.

"There is a complication with the ACCC on bringing processors and supermarkets in the one room, we need to make sure we don't breech any ACCC and are working through that," Mr Littleproud said.

"If Coles and Aldi don't come to the table with something sizable to appease the concerns of the dairy industry, I suggest the last week of parliament may taken up with National Party backbenches putting forward legislation..whether it's a Royal Commission into supermarkets.

"They expect me to give them a government solution, they need to come to the table with hands on their cheque book."

Farmer reaction

After the meeting Mrs McGinn said it was good to interact with the Minister to tell their story about why dairy farmers need farm gate prices to increase.

"We have to keep telling our story," Mrs McGinn said.

"We want a fair price for our milk and it's important to keep the message alive and make sure consumers understand how important it is that the milk price goes up to keep our industry sustainable."

Mr Cook echoed Mrs McGinn's sentiments saying: "if we don't change what we are getting paid now, we are not viable, we are not sustainable and we won't be here and people will drink UHT milk".

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