End of era for dairy family
IT IS one of the toughest decisions Jeff and Diane Coy have ever made, but in the end the Freestone couple believe they had no choice but to abandon the dairy industry.
Yesterday they put their entire milking herd up for auction, alongside the tools of their trade a mixing wagon, a milk vat and an assortment of other equipment critical to their dairy operation.
After 20 years of being tied to early starts and late finishes the decision to get out was "bittersweet".
"It's been getting harder and harder and we just got to a point where we are sick of doing this for no return," Mr Coy explained.
"And the truth was we couldn't afford to do it anymore."
The Coys are among more than 50 Queensland dairy farmers, who have exited the industry over the past two years.
Staying dairying wasn't helping us financially or health wise or stress wise and at the end of every month we had the worry of how to pay our bills.
Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation president Brian Tessman said depressingly more farmers, like the Coys, were leaving the industry as farm gate prices slipped below the cost of production.
"There are 55 fewer dairy farmers than two years ago, equalling a loss of about $220 million of investment in fresh milk production in Queensland," Mr Tessman said.
"Farmers who supply the major processors are receiving 3-6 cents per litre less for their milk compared to 2009/10 while costs of milk production have continued to rise."
He said the industry urgently needed government intervention to deal with issues like the supermarket milk price war.
Dairy livestock specialist John Cochrane, who oversaw yesterday's auction, believes the supermarket price war is "murdering the milk industry".
"Confidence in the sector has fallen, farm gate prices are so low people just don't have the margins to fight the elements," he said.
"We have been seeing 80 to 85 dairy farmers leave the Queensland industry every year. And they are being forced to sell and find another future, because although they want to be in the industry they just can't make a living with prices the way they are."
At a grassroots level the Coys too are worried about the industry's future and wonder if their grandchildren will be the first generation in Australia to see UHT milk replace fresh product on supermarket shelves.
But from a personal level they couldn't see a way to stay in the sector where rising electricity and feed grain costs and falling milk prices had eroded their once viable operation.
"If we stayed dairying we risked losing everything we have worked for."
Yet the pressure of leaving the industry they have dedicated two decades of their working life too weighs heavily on Mr Coy.
However he knows many of the industry's problems extend beyond his farm gate.
"A dollar a litre milk has devastated dairy farmers, no matter what the big companies tell you it has had an impact on farm," Mr Coy said.
"Yes there have been other issues too, but the bottom line every single cost we have has gone up, while the price we are getting for our milk has gone down."
So after sleepless nights the Coys made the difficult decision to sell their 200 dairy cows, retaining their 220ha Southern Downs farm to concentrate on hay making.
"Staying dairying wasn't helping us financially or health wise or stress wise and at the end of every month we had the worry of how to pay our bills.
"It's a very difficult place to be in, especially when we had always prided ourselves on how we ran our business."
So yesterday the couple stood anxiously on the sidelines as 20 years of hard work was sold under the hammer.
The best of their dairy herd sold for $2500, while the predominately Friesian herd averaged $1147.
Mr Cochrane said the top price reflected the quality of milkers, but the average - $500 below previous sales of similar stock - highlighted farmers' faltering confidence in the industry.