Thursday, September 29, 2011

Milk Wars

I've just been reading Francis Whiting's article about Queensland's milk industry in last weekends Q magazine (Courier Mail). Its pretty upsetting. Please have a read of it if you get a chance. You can find it at I couldn't possibly do it justice in this blog but I'll try to summarise. She talks about the life of a dairy farmer. The 4:30am starts, work all day, finish at about 8pm. She discusses the price of milk from farm gate to consumer and the role our retail giants Coles and Woolworths have had in this. She also discusses the consumer perspective, how one man makes a decision as to which milk to buy. Here's my two cents. It's not just about milk. And it's not just now. The agriculture industry has been getting a raw deal for decades. The cost of living has increased, and continues to do so. Twenty years ago, I would not fill my car with fuel if the price was over 60c/L. Now I'm paying $1.60 for that same litre. I'm sure you've all noticed a nice increase in your power bills recently. Freight charges have increased and therefore cost of goods everywhere. So why are farmers still getting the same money for their produce that their grandparents were earning? Less even?
Are you earning a wage? Have you ever been to a stop-work meeting because the company was balking at your right to a 3% increase in wages per year. That only barely covers inflation at that. Think about your hourly rate. Would you get out of bed and work all day for $20 an hour? What about $10, $5? Would you put in 100 hours a week for $2000. Doesn't sound too bad right. You could survive your mortgage payments, a vehicle loan or two, groceries etc. on that. But what about feeding half a dozen good working dogs, and keeping up with vaccinations for 1000 head of cattle, keeping them parasite free, and fed during the winter months when there's barely a green blade of grass in the paddock. Then there's cost of freight, and loans on farming machinery.  After business costs, our farmers would be lucky to be getting a wage of $5 an hour.  Many of them don't even take a wage.  The current return on investment for a business in agriculture is 2%. It's not viable. From a purely intellectual perspective it's a bad investment. So why do we even have farmers in Queensland? Because it's what they know and love. But just because you love your job, does that mean you should have to work for free or $5 an hour? Even people looking for work are paid better than that in this country.
So back to the milk issue. We've been told that food has to be affordable for the masses. That's fine, but $1 per litre for milk is cheaper than water. According to this article I was reading, farmers get a higher price for the brand name milk and a lower price for the Home Brand stuff. That's ridiculous if you ask me, but let's run with it for now. I know nothing about the bottled water industry, but I'm pretty sure that if people were that skint that they have to have their milk price reduced, there wouldn't be a market for bottled water at all. So until you go to a tap to get a drink instead of reaching for a soft drink or water at your corner store, perhaps you'd consider picking up the brand name milk from your supermarket fridge and give a small contribution to support the people who feed you.