Consumers avoiding discounted milk would help save farmers drowning in the latest price crisis, a Victorian dairy farmer says.
Marian McDonald and her husband run a medium-sized dairy farm in Gippsland, Victoria, and are grappling with the implications of a recent milk price slash.
Late last month Murray-Goulburn announced it would cut milk prices for suppliers by about 10 per cent. Fonterra followed suit shortly after.
But Ms McDonald said the support of consumers could help send a message to co-ops and supermarkets that farmers, many who are struggling to survive, deserved more.
She said buying a more expensive milk, even if it was just 20 cents more than a discounted brand, would help end the craze of supermarkets selling at prices unsustainable to farmers.
“One of two things that have really backed me is the support from consumers to pay extra for milk,” she told the ABC, holding back tears.
“What [consumers would be] doing is sending the message to supermarkets that it is worthwhile putting a sustainable price on milk.
“It’s been the supermarkets’ argument for so long that ‘people are buying the $1 milk [and] if we can supply that and they are happy with that we will continue to do so’.”
She said consumer support would also give farmers hope for the future.
“As much as anything it just speaks to us that people really do value what we do, and they really care … there is nothing like someone cheering from the sidelines for you,” she said.
Ms McDonald said she did not blame consumers “looking for a bargain”, but cheap milk could end the industry.
“It’s not like cigarette packets, it doesn’t come with a warning that if you keep buying this milk it’s one day no longer going to be available,” she said.
Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia, said market leaders’ rock-bottom prices are squeezing smaller players, across the board.
“When things are really really cheap, someone is paying for that, whether it’s the producer, the retailer or in the long run, the consumer.”
Mr Strong said he was left “speechless and breathless” by news of Coles feeding sales of its new home-brand milk into a “fighting fund” for struggling farmers.
He questioned the merit of the supermarket giant throwing a lifeline to an industry it effectively “destroyed”.
“They’ve put so much pressure on the dairy industry,” he said, adding there was no guarantee the extra 20 cents would reach the most embattled dairy farmers.
“Coles won’t put up a sign explaining it. Their behaviour is questionable. I think we’d need to have a very high level of transparency to see what’s coming in and what’s coming out,” he said.
‘Farmers, consumers, we’re all little people’
Gippsland farmer and contestant from television series Farmer Wants a Wife, Adam Nelson, this week revealed on social media he was forced to shut down his dairy farm as the crisis worsened.
“Along with many others to come, my cows have left my farm and my business shut down at the hands of Fonterra,” he wrote on Instagram.
Mr Nelson urged consumers to boycott cheap milk options at Coles and Woolworths, writing below the post: “People buy the $1/litre milk at the supermarkets without thinking how on Earth does it even go from cow to shelf at that price.”
Ms McDonald said from a dairy farmer’s perspective, it did not matter where consumers bought, rather what price they paid.
“Don’t make people feel guilty for shopping at their normal supermarket … just when you are reaching out for your litre or two litres, don’t go straight to the homebrand and the cheapest price,” she said.
“Think about what this means in the long-term … the signal that sends is stupendous.
“The farmers and the consumers are all in the same boat, we’re all little people.”