Farmer Power is a not-for-profit organisation formed to protect the interests of farmers. It was established in January 2013 after its first public rally at Noorat, Victoria. Farmer Power was expecting a small gathering at this event but was inundated with over 700 farmers in attendance to voice their concerns about the dairy industry, and to show support for the new organisation.
Farmer Power has a core membership in Victoria but operates nationally. In 2016 when the notorious “clawback” was imposed on farmers by some processors, a series of workshops was held involving around 2,000 farmers. Farmer Power then organised a peaceful rally in Melbourne involving 800 people urging intervention to save Australia’s dairy farmers (who were bussed into the city from all over Victoria). There were simultaneous protests in Adelaide and Brisbane.
Since then there has been a deepening crisis within the dairy industry, due to seemingly unconscionable conduct on behalf of the big milk processors especially as demonstrated by the clawback implemented by both Murray Goulburn and Fonterra. In 2014 there was an invitation to make submissions to the Government’s White Paper on Agricultural Competitiveness. In 2015-16 the Productivity Commission conducted two inquiries that had a bearing on the dairy industry, and this was followed by a Senate Inquiry. In 2016 the Federal Government directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to look into the behaviour of Murray Goulburn and Fonterra, and later requested it to conduct an industry-wide inquiry into competition in the dairy industry.The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman conducted its own inquiry into how small businesses including farms were treated by big businesses in their contractual arrangements. Farmer Power has made written submissions to all these inquiries, made presentations at hearings, and met commissioners and politicians for private discussion, with a view to getting a better deal for farmers.
The way the industry is structured gives farmers minimal ability to negotiate on the price of their milk, and there are restrictive practices which place all the power in the hands of the milk processors. The farmers get paid whatever the processors decide to pay them, and these processors appear to have been keen to maximise the short-term dividends of the shareholders rather than build a sustainable industry.
The Federal Government promised the farmers help them through the crisis, but this help has not eventuated. As a result it costs more to produce milk than farmers are being paid for it. In the meantime, the Government’s inaction has led to farmers quitting, and others only surviving by borrowing heavily from the banks.
The crisis has continued so that the average farm can barely break even and some even run at a loss while escalating debts mount up. Many farmers have sent their cows to the abattoir, handed the keys to their farms to the banks, and worse. This is clearly unsustainable and farm closures as well as sale of stock have resulted in falling milk production throughout Australia.
The devaluation of product by selling $1.00 a litre milk as well as the base price currently being paid to farmers for their milk are just some of the concerns facing farmers and informed consumers.
This collapse of Australia’s dairy industry is happening right now before our eyes. It will affect businesses and employment well beyond the dairy industry through a ripple effect. Some businesses servicing dairy farms are already laying off staff, and the closure of processing plants is evident.
Farmer Power has undertaken analysis of what is wrong with the industry over the past couple of years and has proposed short term measures as well as long term plans for rebuilding a sustainable industry. This is just the start of our campaign. We need to pay for administrative and professional support, media advertisements, and campaign activities. If there are sufficient funds we may also be able to help some of the desperate farmers out with extra emergency relief funds.
The funds we have raised so far enabled Farmer Power to launch our own Dairy Recovery Plan to help the Industry but so far it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
“Politicians need to listen before it is too late!”
Farmer Power has remained a grassroots organisation, with all its board members being dairy farmers. There are two non-farmers who support the operations of the organisation, largely on a pro bono basis.
What started out as an action group has evolved into a strong advocacy group, making detailed submissions to various dairy industry inquiries and Government papers, lobbying politicians, liaising with media and producing a weekly newsletter for our followers. This has enabled us to establish trust with dairy farmers, many of whom are disillusioned about the lack of advocacy support they receive from the established industry bodies. There are an estimated 3,000 dairy farmers in Victoria, 4,500 Australia-wide, and we believe we have good outreach to these farmers through social media (our Facebook page has 8,000 followers).