The message from dairy farmers wanting a price increase on their product has been made loud and clear in a South Coast town, with giant signs appearing on the highway.
The signs, which can be seen from the Princes Highway north of Milton, read ‘farmers deserve better’ and ‘Coles, profiteering during drought’.
The man behind the statements is Stony Hill dairy farmer Robert Miller, who wants a “fair price” for his milk.
Mr Miller is also having corflutes made with a similar message for dairy farmers to put on their farm gates.
“I will send those to every farmer in the district to have on their front gates,” he said.
“The message we are trying to send is that they can’t sell milk for $1 anymore.
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“It is costing that much for us to produce it. We need a sustainable price rise, otherwise we aren’t going to be in business – there won’t be dairy farmers in NSW.”
Correspondence to Coles asking for a price rise was not fruitful, so Mr Miller erected the signs on Thursday, August 23, to make his message loud and clear.
The farm gate price for milk was currently 50c per litre, however with the increase in hay costs it was costing farmers $1 a litre to produce, Mr Miller said.
“We are buying hay that is costing $600 a tonne to get here, and then our other costs are making it about $1 a litre to produce,” he said.
“We need a 50 cent price rise to cover the costs of production at present and Coles will not lift the price on any milk.
“This price war started seven years ago, and has put pain on farmers. We don’t have the resources to fight this drought.”
However Coles has refuted claims its $1 a litre milk price is sending dairy farmers broke.
A spokesperson for Coles quoted results of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report into the dairy sector, saying it found no link between the price paid to farmers and the amount milk is sold for in supermarkets.
“Coles does not pay dairy farmers directly for milk, but instead purchases it from a number of processors.
“The ACCC's report on its inquiry into the dairy sector, released in May, found there was no link between the prices paid to farmers by processors and the amount supermarkets charged for private label milk, and that raising retail prices would not result in higher prices being paid to farmers.”
The five dairy farmers in Milton produce 10 million litres of milk a year collectively. When the price fell seven years ago, they say they lost 20 cents per litre.
“That 20c price fall has costs us $2 million a year between the five farms,” Mr Miller said.
“What they took from just Milton is greater than the $1.5 million Coles is giving to the drought relief for every farmer in the state.”
The decrease meant farmers couldn’t afford to put fencing contractors on, update machinery, modernise equipment, change their farms to adapt to climate change, or spend in the local economy, Mr Miller said.
“This is destroying the dairy industry and seriously hurting rural communities like Milton,” he said.
“Coles is profiteering from a drought and are still discounting our products to get people in their doors, and are showing no empathy for farmers whatsoever.”
The Coles spokesperson said Mr Miller’s farm supplied Parmalat, which produced supermarket-brand milk for Woolworths, not Coles.
They said Coles shared the community’s concern about the plight of farmers experiencing drought conditions.
“Which is why last month we announced the Coles Nurture Fund would provide $5 million in grants and interest-free loans for farmers who have a project which will help them to combat drought,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, Coles is also raising money in stores across the country for the CWA's drought relief efforts, to provide more immediate assistance, and Coles is matching every donation dollar-for-dollar.
“In less than a month, customers at stores including Coles Ulladulla – which is among the top 10 per cent of fundraisers in NSW – have raised over $2.5 million, for a combined total of more than $5 million so far for the CWA Appeal.”