Down in the dumps

Rueben HaleCountryman

State Government authorities have begun investigating an allegation of dumped milk, just days after the milk truck stopped calling at the three Southwest dairy farms.

The nightmare begins for dumped Brownes milk suppliers Tony Ferraro, Dale Hanks and Graham Manning, who now face the daily dilemma of what to do with thousands of litres of unwanted milk.

D-day has finally arrived for the farmers, after Brownes had informed them in July that it would stop collecting their milk when their contracts expired, but were given a two-week reprieve after WAFarmers negotiated a deal with a mystery buyer to sell their supplies to Harvey Fresh. Today there is no more offers of help.

Department of Environmental Regulation has confirmed it is already investigating whether Mr Manning, who runs a dairy farm in Harvey, has poured milk has been put into a drain.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1986, the penalties for unlawfully discharging waste, such as milk related waste, into the environment include a maximum penalty of $62,500 for individuals and $125,000 for body corporates. The Act also provides for a number of pollution offences, which carry maximum penalties ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 for individuals and $500,000 to $1 million for body corporates.

Mr Ferarro, who runs a 300-head farm with the help of his sons Paul and Richard, said he has been left with no choice than to start disposing of his milk each day.

“I’m passed giving a stuff about the consequences,” Mr Ferraro said. “Why has it been allowed to come to this?” he said.

“First Brownes lied to us about our security as supplier after begging us to sign on with them two years ago and then the government seems to have done very little since then to help us, so here we are today”

Mr Ferraro said farmers being forced to dump their milk is an unprecedented event in the Australian dairy industry.

“Me and my boys are just wandering around the farm, waiting to see if a truck will come to collect the milk,” Mr Ferraro said.

“What are we supposed to do?” Do we carry on as normal milking cows and cutting silage, or is it all just a waist of time?

“It seems we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t because I can’t dry out most of the herd because they are pregnant, but if I go and milk them I will get charged by the EPA for breaking environmental laws.

Mr Ferraro said he blames Brownes and the government can’t believe we have been treated the way we have by Brownes,” he said. “We entered into a contract with them in good faith and never for a moment expected that we would be dumped because we conveniently coming to the end of our contract.”

Mr Ferraro said the WA diary industry was now devoid of ethics and ruled by economic rationalism.

“In the old days when the industry worked together and supported one another during the highs and lows milk surplus was absorbed into cheese and other products, but since the introduction of $1-a-litre milk, the industry has been stripped of value and held to ransom by the major supermarket chains.

“It is not just the dairy farmers, but also the consumer who will lose in the end when there is another milk shortage in WA like we had last year. And its likely that any last minute ideas to help us are likely to be too late for us now and once were gone we’re never coming back.”

WAFarmers dairy president Michael Partridge said he was disappointed that a solution had not been found.

“We’ve left no stone unturned speaking with all the processors, retailers and government to try and come up with a positive outcome for the farmers,” he said.

“I condemn Brownes for shifting the burden of risk onto the farmers in this challenging market situation caused by cut-price milk and I now hope that in an environment of insecurity I hope that Brownes don’t take advantage of the market situation they created.”

Newly appointed WA Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis said that he understood there was a viable commercial solution being developed.”

“I realise the producers difficult position, however I would encourage him to contact the Department of Agriculture who can assist with the correct disposal of milk and any animal welfare issues,” he said.

Brownes were contacted for comment.

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