NSW parliamentary inquiry held in Taree in relation to dairy farming industry

Taree Collective Bargaining Group and local dairy farmer Tim Bale address the inquiry. Photo: Scott Calvin.
Taree Collective Bargaining Group and local dairy farmer Tim Bale address the inquiry. Photo: Scott Calvin.

“We’re not asking for anything to make millions of dollars - what we’re asking for is just something that is fair.”

These are thoughts of Taree Collective Bargaining Group chairman and local dairy farmer Tim Bale following a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the sustainability of the dairy industry, held in Taree on Monday, November 19.

The inquiry, run by the NSW Parliament’s Industry and Transport Committee, focused on key areas such as:

  • The value chain between farmers, processors, logistics companies and retailers regarding their respective influence on price.
  • The farmgate milk price (the price farmers receive from processors for the milk they produce).
  • The impact of external influences on the dairy industry.
  • The impact of previous policies (in particular the deregulation of the dairy industry).
  • The role of government in addressing economic challenges to the industry.

Mr Bale said dairy farmers want a sustainable industry for generations to come, and it starts with a rise in the base price of milk.

“We need a large lift in the base price of at least eight to 10 cents a litre to carry dairy farmers through in the future.

“Taree and the Manning Valley has always been traditionally a dairy area.

We produce about 30 per cent of the fresh milk market in NSW and our dairy farmers are really struggling.

Stephen Bromhead, Member for Myall Lakes

“We have 160 million litres within an hour radius of Taree and that supplies significant contributions to the community of Taree in terms of produce, feed, machinery, all that sort of stuff.

“It’s very simple to us because it’s about a base price lift, not just a drought levy or some kind of levy to help us for a few months.

“It’s something that can come forward in the future to make the industry sustainable,” Mr Bale said.

Mr Bale said dairy farmer numbers have dwindled in the last two decades. 

“In NSW for example we had thousands of dairy farmers 20 years ago, now we’re less than 700.

“There’s still a lot more who are going to go out in the next 12 months and we’re wanting to try and look at bringing young people, our kids, into our business.

“But how do you do that? How do you encourage young people into a business that’s going nowhere at the moment?

“One of the problems I see is every time the dairy farmer makes a productivity gain, it’s taken away by price.

“If we do something that means we can save a couple of cents a litre, we lose three cents off our price and that’s what is very frustrating,” Mr Bale said. 

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan and the company’s Farmers Group president Graham Forbes address the panel.

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan and the company’s Farmers Group president Graham Forbes address the panel.

Mr Bale was critical of external influences on the domestic dairy industry.

“It’s about having power to talk to foreign-owned multinational companies that quite frankly don’t care about dairy farmers and agriculture industry in Australia,” Mr Bale said.

“They’re not looking sustainably at making sure farmers are here in the future - there’s too much wholesale milk around, buying off other processors and that importance of actually having milk coming from suppliers direct on farm doesn’t seem to have the same importance as it had years ago.”

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan and the company’s Farmers Group president Graham Forbes spoke about the imbalance of power between farmers and processors.

They said $1 per litre for milk provides “unfair value” for dairy farmers as it undervalues their efforts and products.

Mr Forbes said one action that would help dairy farmers would be to appoint a commissioner who would handle issues relating to the industry.

He added farmers are looking to survive rather than to just be sustainable.

Other dairy farmers from Gloucester, Oxley Island, Hannam Vale, The Bight, Dyers Crossing, Kimbriki and Bulahdelah addressed the committee at the inquiry.

Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead hoped the inquiry will help create actions for the future of the dairy industry.

Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead hoped the inquiry will help create actions for the future of the dairy industry.

Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead highlighted how crucial the inquiry was to local farmers.

“We have one of the highest concentrations of dairy farms in NSW.

“We produce about 30 per cent of the fresh milk market in NSW and our dairy farmers are really struggling. 

“Their costs are in excess of 59 cents per litre and they’re getting 50 to 54 cents per litre back for their milk.

“This is not sustainable.

“From this, we are hoping, we will be able to find an answer for the future viability of the dairy industry in NSW and also to be able to ensure the consumers are getting the clean, beautiful dairy product on the shelves and not have the dairy industry go under and therefore have reconstituted milk brought in from other places.

“We really need the dairy industry itself to come up with answers and then we can look at what the State Government can do to help bring about those changes and the answers for them,” Mr Bromhead said.

Legislative Council for the Nationals’ Wes Fang was one member of the inquiry’s panel.

He said the panel is determined to identify actions to increase sustainability in the industry.

“We want to ensure going into the future NSW can supply itself with fresh milk.

“We don’t want to see imports coming in - we want to make sure we have a vibrant and sustainable dairy industry and coming to place like Taree directly from the farmers is really important in ensuring that process occurs.

We’re not asking for anything to make millions of dollars- what we’re asking for is just something that is fair.

Tim Bale, Taree Collective Bargaining Group chairman.

“We’re hearing a lot about the cost of production going up and how the milk farmgate price the farmers are receiving is actually less than what they are getting paid for the cost of production. 

“That, in any business model, is unsustainable so we want to ensure that there is a sustainability that farmers are not only getting paid what it costs to produce the milk but they are getting a return on their investment so that future generations can go into the dairy industry knowing that it’s a sustainable industry and that we can have milk produced in NSW for NSW,” Mr Fang said. 

Mr Fang stressed the importance of hearing the views of Manning based farmers.

“This is really the hub of the northern dairy industry - there is a large amount of milk produced here.

“We want to learn the lessons that we are seeing from the milk produced here and hopefully taking some of that back when we are looking at our report,” Mr Fang said.

Other inquiries were held in the Southern Highlands and in Sydney before Taree.

Information from all three inquiries will be collated for a report.