The Coles move to buy milk directly from farmers has split dairy advocacy groups.
NSW Dairy Connect was glowing in its praise of the move, Australian Dairy Farmers cautiously welcomed it ,while the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation said it was difficult to trust the intentions of the supermarket giant.
As the new arrangements will apply only in Victoria and central and southern NSW, the QDO stance at this stage is largely academic as its members won't be affected but it reflects the Queensland organisation's moves to position itself as a leading national organisation.
Coles announced last week it would start sourcing milk directly from farmers in Victoria and southern and central NSW from July.
Saputo Australia would continue to pack the milk for the supermarket chain's discount lines, which have sold for $1.10 a litre since March.
Coles has put out the call to Victorian and NSW farmers interested in contracting their milk production to send in an expression of interest.
It said was also "looking for opportunities" to expand its direct buying footprint to other milk-producing regions.
Dairy Connect welcomed the announcement that Coles was side-stepping the processor in NSW and Victoria.
"While stakeholders had yet to have access to the fine print involved with the proposal, on face value, it provides a pathway to the future for the milk supply chain," Dairy Connect president Graham Forbes said .
"Notionally, the proposal should deliver price-certainty for up to three years for dairy producers supplying Coles house brand milk."
The plan would address a number of complaints the farmers had about the existing system.
But QDO said while Woolworths had a direct relationship with farmers through its Farmers' Own brand, this was a premium brand that sold at more than $1.50/L, while the Coles deal would apply to its private label milk, that sold for $1.10/L.
QDO said it expected dairy farmers who supplied Coles to receive the full 10c/L the supermarket had promised would be directly passed on to farmers when it lifted the retail price earlier this year.
It also expressed concern about the potential power imbalance between Coles and its suppliers.
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The QDO said farmers, as small business owners, already struggled to negotiate with multinational processors for a fair farmgate price.
It asked what hope would an individual farmer have to negotiate a fair and sustainable farmgate price when up against the might of Coles.
"At this stage, the nuts and bolts of how and what this relationship and process will look like is pure speculation, with only Coles knowing truly what its intentions are," QDO executive officer Eric Danzi said.
The supermarket should be lifting its price of fresh milk to pre-2010 levels.
"What we need to ensure is that this does not give Coles even more power over dairy farmers and does not allow Coles to revert to $1/L pricing," Mr Danzi said.
Australian Dairy Farmers said more competition for milk was healthy and the Coles deal had the potential to provide greater transparency within the dairy supply chain between farmers and retailers.
But although saying it was hopeful, it wanted further information about how the deal would work.
It also called on Coles to commit to ensuring that $1/L milk never returned to its shelves.
The most unsustainable part of the dairy industry was the lack of value being returned to farmers through the domestic market.
ADF said it was imperative value was delivered through the supply chain, with farmers receiving their fair share for the hard work, risk and investment they had in this industry.
This included farmers securing their fair share of future retail price increases across the dairy cabinet.
This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer
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