WORTHLESS: 10c milk levy is 'a pimple on a whale's backside'
WOOLWORTHS' decision to raise the price of milk has come too late for Southern Downs dairy farmers and one producer says the industry will never recover from seven years of stagnant prices.
Freestone Valley farmer Bill McVeigh watched for half a decade as his neighbours moved out of milk production.
"There were nine dairies in the valley seven years ago and there are two now,” he said. "That's one for every year of $1 milk.”
Mr McVeigh gets about 50c per litre and that rate has not moved much in the past seven years.
But his expenses have.
Feed is at record prices, electricity continues to climb and petrol fluctuates.
All the while, milk producers have been stuck in drought.
Heat stress and lack of water means the cows are not lactating at their usual rates.
"We are between a rock and hard place,” Mr McVeigh said.
"Our production is down about 50 per cent and it is the same everywhere you look.
"There is a massive shortage of milk and Queensland cannot produce enough to meet its daily consumption.
"Milk is getting trucked in from down south, but the price hasn't changed.”
Mr McVeigh sells to Norco, which supplies Coles, so he won't get a taste of the new levy as it only applies to farmers who supply Woolworths.
But he said it wouldn't matter if Coles adopted the levy.
"Ten cents extra on an income that dropped 50per cent is like a a pimple on a whale's backside,” he said.
"It is no silver bullet.
"Even if they raised it by 30c, you are not going to survive.”
Mr McVeigh said consistent rain was the only thing that could save Southern Downs dairy farmers.
For now, he is combing through his herd and selling off a few head every few weeks to ease the pressure on his paddocks.
He is holding out as long as possible as there is no going back on a decision to sell up.
"Your whole dairy set-up could be worth $300,000 with silos, milking machines and vats, but the day you give up and walk out it is worth almost nothing,” he said.
"You can only sell it as scrap metal, because no one is buying second-hand dairy equipment.”
While Mr McVeigh faces an uncertain future, big retailers like Aldi and Coles are holding firm.
Instead of increasing prices, Coles asked shoppers to donate to a charity fund.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud called it out as a publicity stunt.
"(It is) just a smokescreen to hide the fact they pay bugger all for milk,” he said.
"The farmers wouldn't need donations from the public if Coles and Aldi paid fair prices.
"Act like a decent corporate citizen instead of just pretending to.”
Mr Littleproud has called for a boycott of Coles and Aldi and wants Wesfarmers' shareholders to register their displeasure. He cited an ACCC ruling that put the industry's woes at the feet of big retailers.
As Mr Littleproud called it: "The big end of town squeezing the life out of the processors and farmers.
"Australians are not idiots,” he said. "They know if the big guy pays bugger all for milk, then the farmer gets bugger all for their milk.”