Dairy future kept alive thanks to country’s oldest co-op
AS AUSTRALIA'S oldest dairy co-operative heads into its 125th year, one Southern Downs farmer credits its existence as the sole reason his family farm is still viable.
Norco started in Clunes in 1895 and today has 325 members across Queensland and New South Wales.
One of these is a 450 head Allora farm, run by brothers Chris and Andrew Mullins.
The brothers took over the farm from their parents, who purchased the land in 1964.
But over the past year, the pair has battled a drought unlike any their parents could have prepared them for.
"The last 12 months have been the biggest hurdle," Andrew said.
"We're trying to keep feed up but with inflated costs - we're paying at least double, sometimes triple, the amount we paid two to three years ago."
"It's tough. I don't know how some of them survive," Andrew said.
"It's a struggle for us, so I imagine it's even more difficult for anyone less than us."
Fortunately for the Mullins brothers, their one saving grace had been in joining the cooperative.
At the height of drought, the farmer-owned business had been able to source feed and extend repayment terms for the farm.
"It's priceless, really," Andrew said.
"If we were not with Norco, we wouldn't be dairy farmers anymore. That's how much of a big difference it makes."
It was that difference that remained a point of pride for Norco chief executive officer Michael Hampson.
"We are on track to deliver improved financial performance in addition to paying our farmers $17 million more than last year for their milk," he said.
"Norco was born 125 years ago to provide our farmers, people and communities with the support they need to thrive and nothing has changed on that front."
This financial year, the company turnover reached more than $600 million and annual milk production hit 195 million litres.
Even more satisfying than those numbers were that of local sales for Andrew.
"Shops that never stocked Norco before are doing so now," he said.
"Every litre of Norco milk that is sold over supermarket label milk makes a huge difference on the bottom line for us. That extra money means we get paid more, means we have more money to spend in the local community."
It also meant the future of the Mullins family farm was looking bright for their youngest man of the land.
"I have a two-and-a-half year old boy who loves being on the farm and around animals," he said.
"My hope is that he has the chance to do this too."