The Price of Milk

This story by journalist Cameron Bennett was screened on New Zealand television on 9 April 2017.

It asks if our love affair with dairy farming are over because farmers are copping much of the blame for polluted rivers and lakes. Cameron asks if the public really knows what's going on down at the farm. Can we can afford to keep having bigger farms? He also asks why can we not buy raw cow's milk from the supermarket? He says raw milk tastes good. See the preview below or click here for see all three of them onetwo and three.

Full video story, 44 minutes:


Please watch the previews and the story first before reading further. The following is an observation after watching the full story:

 

New Zealand:

This story looks at two farmers: one has a large herd of about 600 cows and farms his land as intensive as possible. The other farmer has a smaller herd and a more sustainable farming model. The New Zealand government aims to increase productivity on land with the industrial model but this causes polluted rivers, lakes and other troubles. "All over the country farmers are maximising every bit of arable land. This is part of the government’s goal to double output in 2025.” 

A recent OECD environmental report warn that New Zealand's "very good environmental quality of life" is under threat. In the article an author warns "giving into commercial interests is taking its toll".

It is worthy to note that journalist Cameron was under the impression that a 600 cow farm provides a decent income, but that doesn't seem the case as farmer's wife Cheryl explains. There won’t be any judgements in this article, only observations. It is valuable for people to watch this story and come to their own conclusions.  

It is also important to note that after new 2016 raw drinking milk regulations in New Zealand, it has become very challenging for dairy farmers to stay and also enter that market due to excessive testing and other regulatory rigmarole. For more information read:  Fair Regulations and Production Standards for Raw Milk. These regulations need to be reviewed and fair solutions need to be found. The controls on the production of raw milk need to be proportionate and appropriate for the modern consumer and dairy farmer. 

 

Australia:

The current system in Australia is also pro enlarge and intensify. Alternatives are few. The obvious choices for small-scale dairy farmers are:  find a niche market, get big or get out. But there are ramifications to the get big or get out mindset. Quality is almost universally sacrificed when you go big and cheap which is why we have the rising renaissance in popularity of artisanal foods. Many consumers are concerned with quality and flavour and a nurturing approach to mother earth. See the Australian film Fair Food for more. Sadly dairy farmers find it next to impossible to diversify with products like raw milk cheese because they find the Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulations too difficult and too cost prohibitive. Farmers cannot diversify with raw drinking milk either because it is illegal in Australia. 

The Australian and New Zealand governments don’t seem to see value in promoting organic, small-scale, compassionate, high animal welfare, high quality ethical dairy farming. They don't seem to see any value in raw milk for human consumption either. This has to change.

 

In other countries:

Different raw milk models overseas enable dairy farmers to meet consumer needs and produce organic, sustainable, high animal welfare raw dairy. It is viable to produce raw dairy based on consumer preferences because consumers are asking for it and they are willing to pay for it. Some dairies allow calves to stay with their mothers and enable them to run together as a natural herd of all ages. Some allow bobby calves to be reared until the age of two. Many consumer concerns are addressed with these systems. See: Solutions for the Australian dairy industry.  These systems put the power and the money back into the farmer's hands and allow direct farm-to-consumer contact. There are many examples showing that the frequent social interaction as consumers visit the farm, are a source of moral support and restoration of dignity for dairy farmers. This is a viable avenue to end the isolation and the economic disadvantage.

 

Consumers:

There seems to be a growing divide between the global trade that governments and big business value, and satisfaction of local demand that consumers and the general public value. They seem to be moving in opposite directions and becoming more polarised, especially in Australia and New Zealand. Exports are upheld as the number one priority to keep financial prosperity flowing while the requirements and wellbeing of the local consumers and farmers are just ignored. Many in the general public are questioning dairy practises due to the visible environmental effects of large-scale farming and due to ethics and animal welfare issues that arise in it. Many consumers are also giving up dairy due to allergies or lactose intolerance. They can't tolerate pasteurised milk anymore. 

 

The conclusion:

Consumers used to have a huge love affair with dairy but the effects of industrialisation of dairy have changed the relationship for many. The Australian and New Zealand governments seem to recommend and support only the corporate farming industry as a way to feed the world in the future, while ignoring what local consumers are begging for now. Industrial agriculture is promoted while sustainable agriculture is discouraged. Dairy farmers are stuck in the middle in a tug of war. It seems like some dairy farmers are really struggling to understand why they have gone from hero to zero in the public's and the media's estimation, as Cameron suggests in his article

The love affair with dairy isn't quite over but values and preferences have changed and are seeking to be enabled with regulatory change and viable new systems. Something has got to give under the pressure for transformation. 

 

"Farmers are at risk of losing their 'social licence to farm'." (source)
"Companies exist to return profit to their shareholders. And the worst companies, like the worst farmers, will seek short-term profit for themselves while creating long-term damage paid for by society at large." (source)
"But for dairy farming to be good for all of us, we need good farmers who have their eyes on tomorrow and acknowledge their place as a brief custodian. Corporate dairy is consumed with the profit and loss of today. Good farmers have their eye on the economics, but also on doing right by the community and the environment. We need to take care of this land, because we don’t leave after the work’s done – it’s home. This land is everything." Gina Williams (source)
"…the outrage by some within Dairy Farming at a very honest appraisal of their industry by TVNZ suggests an angry electorate who instead of being open to criticism and prepared to adapt to the environmental realities in front of us as a planet and as a country, are prepared to lash out at anyone they see as threatening their identity and way of life." (source)
"The Sunday crew have just experienced what we typically experience – filming and showing the truth, resulting in outrage and name-calling from an angry industry in wilful denial."  Farmwatch (source)

"It's short-term gain and long-term damage. Put simply – the industry model of dairy farming is not sustainable." (source)

"Flinty is dead right on so may levels. Urban dwellers who continue to suckle from the teat of New Zealand's dairy industry while decrying its environmental and animal welfare impact need to look at themselves first. There is simply no point scapegoating farmers. It's the industry itself that needs examining." (source)