Dairy farmers changing with the times

INDUSTRY SHAKE-UP:  Woodside Park dairy farmer Rob McIntosh and his father Bruce with some of their Holstein cows. Photo: Rohan Thomson

INDUSTRY SHAKE-UP: Woodside Park dairy farmer Rob McIntosh and his father Bruce with some of their Holstein cows. Photo: Rohan Thomson

BERRY dairy farmer Rob McIntosh has joined a major supplier for the company that was at the forefront of the $1-a-litre milk wars, Coles.

And while he said it “hurts like crazy” when you go into a supermarket and pay more for a bottle of water than a bottle of milk,  his livelihood now rests with milk processor Devondale Murray Goulburn, which has signed a 10-year deal with Coles.

“We’ve seen a lot of the industry, specially the processing sector, become owned by multinational companies. [Murray Goulburn] was like a breath of fresh air in the market place because it appeared we were going to be at the beck and call of supermarkets but also multi-national companies that make difficult decisions at times in the processing sector,’’ Mr McIntosh said.

Supermarket vendors were a fact of life, placing milk at the back of their shops to get people walking past most aisles.

“My own thought is, if there is a really strong demand and manufacturing products develop and we get good results from a China free-trade agreement, we can start to generate export as well. Then there will be competition for milk, whether it is liquid milk or whether it is going into manufacturing milk, it is going to be a healthy state.’’

The NSW Farmers Dairy Committee president, Mr McIntosh says deregulation, droughts and $1-a-litre milk forced so many farmers out of the industry demand for milk in Queensland and Western Australia could outstrip supply.

“It does get expensive in dry times and really wet times to keep that production going. We used to rely on a bit of premium in the liquid milk market to offset those off seasons when you know you have to supply.’’

Departing farmers left cheap farms and more efficient producers behind, which subsequently attracted multinational companies keen to capture lucrative markets across Asia including China.

“New Zealand shows if you can get a good trade deal with China it can send your industry on a good path to prosperity. We have seen, too, the need for dairy in China and Japan, in the form of powder or UHT milk or various dairy products, they don’t have the variety we have in Australia.’’

Mr McIntosh rises at 3am to milk 175 cows each day, before feeding stock on his property, Woodside Park. And he knows each cow by name in his Holstein herd of 300.

His 86-year-old father Bruce still helps out on the farm, and remembers when 126 milk suppliers farmed the area in the 1960s. Now there are six.

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