An Extra 10 Cents Per Litre Of Milk Would Help These Farmers Survive

'We need this to feed our animals and ourselves.'

Four days ago, Mathew Daley missed his mortgage repayment.

It was a first for the 37-year-old dairy farmer, who is facing a very real threat of bankruptcy and $27,000 worth of legal fees he can’t afford to pay.

“I have friends who have offered to pay our mortgage, but how can I take that from them if I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to pay it back?” he told ten daily.

That’s just the start for Daley, who lives in a shed on his Kempsey property on the New South Wales Mid North Coast to leave his home up for rent.

A drought has taken hold of New South Wales and Queensland. Image: Getty Images.

With drought firming its grip on New South Wales and Queensland, the cost of feed and grain is spiralling, and availability is becoming scarce. Dairy farmers -- who rely on high quality feed to keep their cows in peak health -- are arguably being hit the hardest.

“We are losing money everyday. It has reached the point where we don’t have the money to go on anymore,” said Daley, who often finds himself awake at 2am to check on his cows.

“I’m functioning on no sleep and working seven days a week. It’s soul destroying.'

At the end of each 10-hour day, dairy farmers like Daley are receiving less money in their pockets than what it took them to produce a litre of fresh milk.

It’s a drought-induced price/pressure squeeze that has plagued farmers for years -- even before supermarkets set a one-dollar milk price anchor back in 2011 -- and they’ve had enough.

READ MORE: The One Thing That Would Get This Family Through Drought

Dairy farmers Debbie, Todd and Tony Biffin want a fair price for their milk. Image: Emma Brancatisano

They’re campaigning for a 10-cent litre levy on milk to keep their businesses alive during drought, and thereafter.

A petition calling on supermarkets across the country to increase the retail price of all milk, and for processors to return that money to farmers,  was launched on Monday by the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation (QDO). At time of writing, it has already received over 14,000 signatures.

QDO's Sarah Ferguson said the disastrous situation was calling out for a different approach.

“We have been trying hard to do things in a traditional way by negotiating with supermarkets and processors to influence this discounted milk market. But it hasn’t worked. Nothing has changed,” Ferguson told ten daily.

In current conditions, the Biffins' days are filled with 'chores': milking and handfeeding their animals. Image: Emma Brancatisano

“When we saw the reaction from the public to 15 cent plastic bags, and the response from Coles and Woolworths, we knew we had to go to the ultimate game-changer: the consumer.

“They’re the ones who can say, 'no, I’m not going to buy this'.”

Daley welcomed the direction of the petition and criticised the government’s inaction.

“The whole industry is at breaking point, and our politicians can’t give us a straight answer,” he said.

Just last month, a similar proposition for a 20 cent levy on retail milk prices, introduced by United Australia Party’s Brian Burston, was voted down in the Senate.

This, in part, came down to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's final report of inquiry into the dairy industry, released in April, that found no relationship between retail private milk prices and farmgate prices that are not set by supermarkets.

Dairy farmers are hit the hardest during drought. Image: Emma Brancatisano

The inquiry was initiated by then Treasurer Scott Morrison in response to “large and retrospective reductions in milk prices imposed by two major dairy processors”. Daley said the investigation, which took 18 months, led to nothing, except "more surveys". 

“The whole industry is screaming at politicians, at you’re telling me you need another survey?”

“We need something to happen, and we need it now.”

‘we need this to survive'

For Daley, an extra ten cents per litre of milk would put food on the table.

“It would allow us, first and foremost, to break even. It would allow a dairy farmer to send their children to university, to tell them there is a future in this,” he said.

Dairy farmer Tony Biffin agrees. In the three weeks since ten daily visited his Cawdor property, on Sydney's outskirts, conditions have "spiralled" and his milk production has almost halved. 

Todd Biffin and his wife Brooke live on the property in Cawdor. Image: Emma Brancatisano

"We are hanging in there, but we've had a shocker of a week where we lost three cows and had to start scaling back," he told ten daily.

"We need 10 cents extra per litre to survive, to feed our animals and feed ourselves. This is not because we're inefficient -- it's purely a cost/price pressure and it's going to take a long time to pan out."

While the process may be slow, Biffin believes the petition could put enough pressure to "break the back" of the now-plagued industry.

Ferguson, too, is hopeful and says her organisation won't be backing down.

The critical issue, however, is that retailers and processors agree to guarantee the fully levy would be returned to farmers. At time of writing, two processors -- Norco and Parmalat -- have confirmed their support.

"This is like a game of dominos. We're expecting others will follow," Ferguson said.

Talks are understood to be underway between processors and retailers.

"We are going to nag and pester. This is about breaking the back for good," she said.

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