Get ready to break out the pitchforks

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Get ready to break out the pitchforks

Fonterra announced it’s end of financial year report yesterday, and front and centre was this figure: $834 million profit.


Quite frankly, I doubt whether many dairy farmers are going to read past this figure because it is just so BIG.  And it flies in the face of Fonterra CEO Theo Spiring’s comment that Australian dairy farmers were being paid too much.  Adding insult to injury, Theo went on further to say that “What we are doing is drive (sic) every cent of money which we can out of Australia back to New Zealand shareholders in this extremely low milk price environment.”


I’m guessing that Theo (and let’s be fair in sharing the blame around here..Gary Helou, former boss of Murray Goulburn) aren’t overly concerned that the milk that they sip in their overpriced lattes in the city actually contains only a poofteeth of the money that dairy farmers are paid for them to enjoy.

But why waste good time and energy on being concerned about the nations dairy farmers?  Because one of them isn’t here anymore and the other resides across the ditch.  But we are here.  Still slogging it out, trying to make ends meet and retain some sense of normality for our kids.  But to open up emails, twitter feeds, Facebook posts this morning to be greeted by $834 million profit.  Well….it almost made me choke on my own morning cuppa and spill the white gold!

I went to an industry forum on Wednesday that was put on by the Young Dairy Network (supported by Dairy Australia) where a number of speakers presented information on the wider industry outlook, Victorian farm results and on farm practical applications.  A sobering dinner speaker Dr Jon Hauser, bought a sense of reality to the day when, in his own words (“these are my opinions only”) suggested that Victorian dairy farmers that were supplying the commodity export markets could in reality not expect to see highs of $7/kgMS or even $6.50.  Sobering yes, devastating information, no.

In amongst all of yesterday morning’s noise dealing with the huge profit announced by Fonterra, there was also a hearty discussion about Wednesday’s forum.  Some criticised, some supported.  What I found interesting about the criticising camp was that it concentrated around the notion of getting rid of Dairy Australia.

I’ll come clean.  In a past life, I worked for the Department of Agriculture (or one of the many names it presented itself as) and I was an extension officer.  This role meant that I was to take R&D results and deliver them to farmers in either workshops, discussion groups, focus groups or one on one in a form that could be implemented on farm.  Back then, the DofAg was the go-to for independent research, development and extension.  But those days are gone.  Completely gone.  Dairy farmers pay a levy which funds Dairy Australia.  Dairy Australia (DA) uses this money to drive R&D, extension (or workshops), promotion and raising the profile of the dairy industry to our city counterparts.  Is it perfect?  No.  And I will be the first one to say I have some criticisms and reservations about some of the activities.  But do I think it is a waste of money?  No.  Do I think that it should be scrapped?  God no.

Getting rid of DA would do no good for the dairy industry.  Without them in the landscape, farmers would be at the mercy of research and development that was done by commercial organisations that have a vested interest in a particular set of results.  And we would pay handsomely for it.  More than the levies paid to DA.

Someone on Facebook made the comment that they could take the money they paid in levies to DA and do their own research.  Good luck with that.  Your $8K (as was quoted in the post) is not going to go very far.  Sure you can travel the globe and check out innovative and interesting farming practices, but implementing them back on your own farm is quite another thing.  A quarter of that amount is going to disappear in travel costs alone.  And then there is the accomodation, meals, drinks….

DA and the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV) are being caught up in the blame game that is happening right now.  However, what we must understand is, neither of these organisations had any sway on what happened.  Yes, the UDV has been active in the arena of trying to sort out the mess, but they didn’t cause this.  DA didn’t cause this.  The leadership of Theo Spierings and Gary Helou caused this.

If we are going to break out the pitchforks and go on a Salem type witch hunt, let’s make sure that we are hunting the right people.  Let’s make sure that the heads on the spikes are the ones that put us in this predicament.  Because I want this industry to not just survive, I want it to thrive.  I want to have the confidence in the longevity of it.  When hubby and I eventually give up the dairy game, I don’t want to be buying my milk out of Tetrapaks from China.  I want to have the knowledge that the forums such as Wednesday’s are going to keep happening.  Because that will mean that young people are still interested and entering our industry.

Which is a good thing.