Struggling dairy farmers in south-east Queensland are exploring opportunities to export milk to Asia in a bid to stay in business.
The group is blaming supermarkets for slashing prices and says selling milk overseas may be the only way for them to survive.
Luke Stock from Daloram Jersey Stud in the Lockyer Valley says he would much prefer their milk stay in Australia.
“Not receiving the money we deserve has meant we’ve got to look for an export market,” Mr Stock said.
Queensland dairy farms have been disappearing rapidly since the so-called supermarket “milk war” began in 2011.
“We’re down to 496 dairy farms in Queensland, that’s from a total of 1,500 in 2000,” Mr Stock said. There’s no agricultural industry that can sustain losing 80 farms per year.”
His father Alan Stock says the industry is in a shocking state.
“People going broke and people in tears – it’s a bad state of affairs.”
Council leads search for new market
The Lockyer Valley Regional Council is leading the effort to secure an export deal for local farmers.
Mayor Steve Jones has been involved in approaching potential buyers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.
“In terms of dairy, Asia has all sorts of opportunities,” Councillor Jones said. “The markets could be increased over there enormously with a little bit of education.”
The Stock family says with domestic returns outweighing costs a new market is needed urgently.
“There seems to be a need for our product over there and if they are willing to pay the money that we deserve, then why not?” Luke Stock said. “The average cost of production in Queensland is 55.2 cents per litre. When we’re only receiving an average price of 51 or 52 cents, it’s very difficult to sustain.
Too late’ for fourth-generation farmer.
For some farmers though, the move is already too late. Errol Gerber is a fourth-generation dairy farmer who has reluctantly put Gerber Farms at Lowood up for sale.
“It’s going to be a loss to the Queensland industry, a loss to the local community, to the rural store, to the mechanic, the electrician, the person that comes and does our books, the many staff that we have on hand,” Mr Gerber said.
He had hoped to eventually hand over operation of the farm to his daughter but sustained farm gate prices under the cost of production has put the family under immense pressure.
Mr Gerber believes selling his dairy farm is now the best option.
“There are a lot of other families out there on the verge of collapse – there have been suicides, and there have been people who are on suicide watch. I’ve had three people tell me personally that they’re going to exit the industry.”
The Gerbers have already begun to sell off their hand-reared herd and the remainder will be auctioned later this month.
Mr Gerber has warned more farm closures will follow and dairy families will continue to suffer until customers willing to pay a fair price for milk can be secured.
Source: ABC News-Courtney Wilson