Dairy farmer: It is cheaper to buy milk than it is to produce it during drought

Milton dairy farmer Robert Miller is selling five per cent of his herd each week to abattoirs because he can't source feed, or afford to pay inflated prices for hay during the  drought.
Milton dairy farmer Robert Miller is selling five per cent of his herd each week to abattoirs because he can't source feed, or afford to pay inflated prices for hay during the drought.

A South Coast dairy farmer is selling 40 head of cattle to abattoirs each week because he cannot source fodder to feed his 800-strong herd. 

Robert Miller, a fifth generation dairy farmer on the family’s Milton property, is at breaking point. He can’t feed his beloved animals and he is not getting the return on his milk – a crisis he called a “drought with a double-edged sword”.

Although it won’t find him food for his animals, Mr Miller is urging consumers to think about where they get their milk from.

He said Coles started $1 per litre prices, which is unsustainable, and does not allow farmers to have sufficient resources to fight a drought. This was now sending farmers out of business.

It is costing Mr Miller 90 cents a litre to produce milk because of the cost of feed and he is getting a mere 50 cents per litre in return, putting him in the red. 

“Feed normally costs about $200 a tonne for hay, but we are paying four, five, six hundred dollars a tonne now,” he said. 

“A cow eats 25kg of feed a day, so one tonne feeds 40 cows a day, and I am looking at upwards of 800 cows.

“For my milking herd I need 20 tonnes a day, and that is not counting the 700 young stock that have to be fed as well.

“Since feed costs have gone up, we are looking at about 90 cents a litre for production costs. It is cheaper for me to go to the supermarket to buy milk to feed a baby calf than it is for me to produce it myself.”

A STATE OF DROUGHT: It is cheaper for Milton Dairy farmer Robert Miller to buy milk from the supermarket to feed his young calves, than it is for him to produce it himself.

A STATE OF DROUGHT: It is cheaper for Milton Dairy farmer Robert Miller to buy milk from the supermarket to feed his young calves, than it is for him to produce it himself.

Mr Miller said a state in drought should see prices increase, however a visit to Coles on Monday, August 6, left him feeling “gutted”. 

Coles had slashed prices on dairy products, in which his milk is used, by up to 35 per cent. 

“There is a drought in NSW; supply and demand should say the prices go up, but the supermarkets aren’t putting them up,” Mr Miller said. 

“What empathy do our supermarkets have for farmers? They are absolutely screwing us and we need price rises. 

“When Cyclone Yassi came in, the price of bananas went up. Why isn’t the same thing happening now with milk? The supermarkets just dictate.” 

PRICE CUT: The shelves in Coles on Monday, August 6, showed the price of Vaalia yogurt, which Robert Miller's milk is used in, slashed by 30 per cent.

PRICE CUT: The shelves in Coles on Monday, August 6, showed the price of Vaalia yogurt, which Robert Miller's milk is used in, slashed by 30 per cent.

Mr Miller said farmers had no reserves to fight the drought because low milk prices or $1 per litre had been ongoing for seven years. It was because of this he had to make the decision to begin reducing his stock by five per cent a week. 

“I am selling 40 cows a week to the abattoir because I can’t feed them,” Mr Miller said. 

“These are really good, healthy cows but I can’t buy feed for them and I can’t afford to feed them because the price we are getting for our milk is not reflecting what it costs to produce it. 

“This drought might not look bad, but we can’t buy feed; it is like a mother going to a supermarket and finding the shelves empty. That is what we face because the whole state is in drought. 

“I can’t buy feed and I have had to make a call. I will keep assessing as it happens.” 

FARMING HISTORY: Robert Miller is a fifth generation dairy farmer and has an 800-strong herd of cattle, but is selling 40 cows a week to abattoirs because he can't source feed or afford to buy it.

FARMING HISTORY: Robert Miller is a fifth generation dairy farmer and has an 800-strong herd of cattle, but is selling 40 cows a week to abattoirs because he can't source feed or afford to buy it.

What can consumers do? 

“It’s time for the consumer to say ‘enough is enough’, and shop elsewhere.” 

Mr Miller said the large supermarkets did not care about what was happening at the farm level, and he urged the public to take action. 

“Woolworths have to match Coles, and have agreed to lift there their prices on milk if Coles does,” he said.

“It is time for the people to look elsewhere and support the farmers. A sustainable price needs to be $2 a litre or $5 for three litres.”

Mr Miller said the raised price for milk should be similar to what New Zealand consumers pay for their milk, saying it “would make farmers more sustainable and we could afford to buy feed.”

Dairy farms in Milton are on the brink of being non-existent, Mr Miller said. There are currently four Milton family farms milking cows, all of which have been doing so since the 1850s.

“If we go into a hot, dry summer, there will not be a dairy industry in NSW,” Mr Miller said.

“If we can’t buy feed, we can’t produce milk.”