Want a mooving read? Stressed farmers fight back with cooperative

North east fightback farmers build dairy co-op for next generation

Dairy
STEALING THE SCENE: Darren Sagrera and Teresa Hicks with daughter Chelsea pictured ahead of a documentary set to air. Pictures: MARK JESSER

STEALING THE SCENE: Darren Sagrera and Teresa Hicks with daughter Chelsea pictured ahead of a documentary set to air. Pictures: MARK JESSER

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Quality, sustainability and security is the name of the game for this north east milk cooperative.

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About five years ago, dairy farmers Stuart Crosthwaite and Teresa Hicks were stressed as the disintegration of Murray Goulburn Milk threatened their livelihood.

But looking back, the farmers said it was the beginning of a new, positive chapter, as it led to the birth of their new business, Mountain Milk Cooperative.

Mr Crosthwaite, who is the chairman, said discussions started even before Murray Goulburn collapsed in 2016.

"We were probably getting a little disappointed with the returns we were getting with Murray Goulburn at the time," he said.

"We just thought if we could get a little bit more money for our milk or attract another processor into our region that would be the job done."

Mr Crosthwaite said the discussions broadened into conversations about values the farmers wanted to see in their business operations.

Stuart Crosthwaite

Stuart Crosthwaite

"We wanted equality," the Kergunyah farmer said.

"We wanted to be transparent, we wanted to be honest, we wanted to be equal, we wanted to share, all that sort of flavour of values, so that led to us forming a cooperative."

Mountain Milk Cooperative is now formed by eight farming families and is hoping to have branded milk on supermarket shelves in Albury-Wodonga and North East Victoria by the end of the year.

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Ms Hicks, of Dederang, said it was a positive outcome after a stressful journey.

"Where a lot of other farming families have struggled and maybe exited the industry, we're still here, we're going strong," she said.

Mr Crosthwaite said the cooperative negotiated a flat price over multiple years with Freedom Foods, which allowed members to know their income.

"It has been unbelievably refreshing," he said.

"For me personally it's been therapeutic."

Ms Hicks said the guaranteed contract gave farmers much more security and stability.

"We knew what we were getting and we could budget pretty well and invest it in land and invest in a breeding program that supports animal welfare in our business," Ms Hicks said.

"So with the bobby calf scenario, we're actually doing dairy beef now, so we can grow those calves out that would usually be a by-product of the dairy industry."

Mr Crosthwaite said even though the financial stability was nice, the cooperative wasn't about making money.

"We're not doing this to feather our own profitability and our own self greed," he said. "We chose the cooperative because of the links to our community...it's about building something for the next generation."

Ms Hicks, mother to four-week-old Chelsea, said she too was focussed on passing on a sustainable business.

The story of Mountain Milk Cooperative and other farmers will be aired as part of a new ABC program, Fightback Farmers, on June 15 at 9.30pm.

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The story Want a mooving read? Stressed farmers fight back with cooperative first appeared on The Border Mail.

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