How tough are dairy farmers really doing it?
Would you be able to work for about $2.46 an hour in this country for an extended period of time?
Like city dwellers, dairy farmers are also struggling to adjust to the extreme increase in electricity-, gas- and water bills, the council rates and the overall cost of living. Dairy farmers have it far worse though, because drought has been affecting multiple states in Australia, for some time. Dairy farmers have also not been getting a fair price for their milk, for many years. The Milk Price War was started by Coles on Australia Day 2011, but the real problem has been going on for 20 years after deregulation in the dairy industry. Many farmers have been spiralling towards and are now in poverty, because in recent years many large businesses operating in this country have stepped up efforts to funnel even more money towards big business coffers. The government doesn't seem to have a plan to deal with the fact that ordinary Australians are being 'milked dry', by a system that is geared to take money and prosperity elsewhere. In recent years there have been plenty of evidence showing the moral compass is broken...
Drought-stricken NSW dairy farmer Shane Hickey has recently posted an emotional, selfie-style video on Facebook to show how hard the drought, the 'milk cheque' payment structure, increasing utility bills, soaring feed prices, dwindling water supply etc. have been. The video has already exceeded 2 million views and has been shared over 62,000 times. Shane has taken the brave step to speak out. He told Brisbane's 97.3FM in this interview that he works 14 - 16 hours a day, seven days a week. He has a mortgage and three young children. He recently received his 'milk cheque', and said that he worked for the equivalent of $2.46 an hour for the entire month of July. Working hours like this, year in and year out, makes farmers vulnerable to exploitation. They are physically and mentally too drained to negotiate or fight with processors - who are sometimes multi-national corporate conglomerates - who demand that farmers sign a contract, otherwise farmers will be penalised. Shane said that dairy farmers have no protection in this country whatsoever, and have no say. He said it doesn't matter if consumers start buying the more expensive brands again, because the benefits still goes to the CEO's, shareholders and supermarkets. Shane explained that the extra money consumers pay with their choice of a more expensive milk, is not passed to the farmers.
He told 7 News Sunrise in this video that farmers have no protection in this country; "they are basically left to rot".
What do Australian dairy farmers want?
Shane said that dairy farmers want a fair price and to be treated with respect. They want to enjoy a sense of self worth. He said farmers do not want handouts or a feeling of indignity. In a follow up Facebook video, Shane has declined financial assistance from the public because his plea is for a fair milk price. In the video, he recognised that this situation may potentially not change at all, because processors and supermarkets blame each other for the problem, even though they both enjoy the financial benefits. Overwhelmed with emotion, Shane admitted that it seems impossible to bargain with the people who work for these big companies; some get paid a lot of money not to have a conscience. He talked about a cultural change, setting up a system where farmers can get a fair wage, pay their bills and feel like they are worth something. This feeling of worthlessness is why so many are suicidal, he says.
Another dairy farmer from Queensland, farmer Gregie from 4RealMilk, also recently spoke to Channel 7's Sunrise. He processes, bottles and markets his own brand of milk, cutting out the need for an off-farm milk processor. He also recently took to Facebook to discuss this dilemma and to answer questions from the public. In the Facebook video, he said that some supermarkets have told him that they are keen to stock his milk, but they don't act on it as they say. When the milk has disappeared from the shelf, they don't restock it soon afterwards as they should. Farmer Gregie said that he hears from consumers who are often disappointed with finding empty shelves, and that consumers assume that 4RealMilk must be doing very well. Farmer Gregie said that the opposite is true, despite huge consumer support. Listen to his entire recent Facebook video to learn the details.
He said milk was last sold for $1 per litre in 1992, and since then the price of feed and everything else has gone through the roof, but the price farmers are receiving has not adapted. According to him, the rockbottom price that milk should be sold for in the supermarket should be $1.80 per litre retail. He stated that 40% of the Queensland dairy industry has left the market in the last 6 years. He has been in meetings where processors told dairy farmers to leave if they don't like the price they get for milk. Many dairy farmers are now doing exactly that; they are leaving the industry.
Farmer Gregie said that Australians need to find a way to support local farmers, small- and family businesses. Australians need to see the bigger picture of how this is impacting communities. Australians need to see the warning signs. When dairies close down, entire rural communities dry up.
In this video, American food freedom advocate Joel Salatin talks about convenience and availability being very important to the consumer, and how it is driving the marketplace. Consumers want locally produced food to be easily accessible but this is not easy with large supermarkets supplying that convenience and availability and dictating what is sold, and at what price. It is challenging for local farmers and consumers to access each other.