Minister rules out dairy silver bullet

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Dairy farmer Tony Ferraro watches milk going down the drain with his sons Paul Ferraro and Richard Ferraro. Picture; Michael O'Brien
Camera IconDairy farmer Tony Ferraro watches milk going down the drain with his sons Paul Ferraro and Richard Ferraro. Picture; Michael O'Brien Credit: Countryman

Dumped WA dairy farmers have been told by Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan there is no silver bullet to fix their situation.

Ms MacTiernan met former Brownes and Harvey Fresh suppliers in Bunbury last Friday to listen to their concerns about the industry.

The emotional producers had pinned hopes on the new Labor Government finding a solution to the oversupply of milk, which has led to a spate of contracts being terminated since last year.

The farmers spent more than hour talking to Ms MacTiernan before she was scheduled to meet WA’s three milk processors later that day.

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The meeting followed news that Parmalat-owned Harvey Fresh would cancel contracts with three South West suppliers.

It came after Harvey Fresh suppliers voted against a “pain-sharing” deal to cover the cost of shipping surplus milk to the east.

Former Brownes supplier Tony Ferraro said farmers were left with no illusion that their contracts might be saved by an intervention by the State Government by the end of the meeting.

“It was very sobering to hear that the Government will not help us with our contractual problems with the milk processor, but it was also very much appreciated that the minister was being straight with us,” he said.

Mr Ferraro said the minister patiently listened to stories of how Brownes and Harvey Fresh had painted an inaccurate positive outlook for their milk and the security of their contracts.

“Some farmers even described how the inaccurate price and demand signals had led to unwarranted confidence and investment in new farm infrastructure, which has left them with millions of dollars debt and on the verge of bankruptcy in some cases,” he said.

After the meeting Ms MacTiernan admitted the WA dairy industry faced uncertain times with structural problems causing the most pain to “a small group of farmers” who had borne the brunt.

“We are producing more than enough to satisfy local fresh milk demand but not enough surplus to create a viable ‘last litre’ operation,” she said.

“There are real opportunities for these farmers in the premium product market: we need to work on smart solutions to these oversupply issues.

“The industry believes we need research into this — and I am exploring how we might help.”

Meanwhile, one of the Harvey Fresh casualties, Catterick farmer Tony Pratico, whose herd produces two million litres of milk a year, said new infrastructure was needed to absorb excess milk.

“I’ve been saying for some time that investment in a cheese and or powder factory and concentrating plant would allow suppliers to process excess milk into a saleable product,” he said.

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