Processors criticised at dairy inquiry

February 09, 2017

Dairy farmers discussed their frustrations with major processors Fonterra and Murray Goulburn at a Senate inquiry in Shepparton last week.

Local dairy farmers have expressed their anger and disappointment at a number of major dairy processors at a Senate inquiry into the dairy industry.

Strathmerton’s Bridget Goulding was the first witness to give a submission to the inquiry at Shepparton last week.

The inquiry was introduced after Fonterra and Murray Goulburn made major price cuts in April and May last year.

A Fonterra supplier, Mrs Goulding said she was assured by Fonterra representatives that the $5.60/kg milk solids figure would hold through to June, while she was locking in feed purchases and making decisions about water purchases.

‘‘At the tail end of a very difficult year, climatically, it was not essential for such an extreme price drop just to match Murray Goulburn,’’ Mrs Goulding said.

She also referred to advice the company was giving during the global financial crisis.

‘‘My main reason for being here is to encourage an investigation into Fonterra’s performance over the last decade.’’

She accused the government and media of allowing Fonterra to get away with behaviour that did not measure up against other reputable companies.

Katunga dairy farmer Lionel Harneiss also spoke at the inquiry.

‘‘I really feel that a litre of milk should be worth more than the cost of a postage stamp,’’ he said.

Mr Harneiss said he bought shares in his supplier Murray Goulburn because he wanted to support the company, but only had three weeks to decide on the offer and pay for it.

‘‘At the time we did it, it was a bit of a scramble. With hindsight we were a bit hasty,’’ he said.

‘‘We feel we are loyal people to them, even though there is no reason to be; we have certainly been badly treated. For the time being, we will continue with (them), but it is a real battle.’’

Mr Harneiss said he and his son, who farm in partnership, were fortunate in the fact that they had outside income from other employment, but if they were a family living off the farm, they would have been forced to sell up a while ago.

Mrs Goulding, who is the social issues secretary for Baulkamaugh CWA, said the generosity shown to farmers had been heart-warming.

‘‘Lions groups, community houses, CFA, St Vinnies, Doing it for Dairy, the Northern Victorian Rural Financial Assistance Group and other non-profit organisations have taken Murray Goulburn and Fonterra suppliers under their care to get through the dreadful mess that has occurred.’’

She said the lack of milk supply later in 2016 was caused by massive cow culls brought about by the claw-back by Fonterra and Murray Goulburn’s lack of planning and reactive management styles.

Mrs Goulding praised Bega Cheese chairman Barry Irvin for standing up publicly and criticising the price cuts.

She said she was concerned that speaking out may have repercussions for her.

Inquiry chairman Senator Chris Ketter said the inquiry was protected by parliamentary privilege which prevented any other party from taking action against the witnesses.

Dairy farmers are also being encouraged to have their say at an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission dairy inquiry forum at the Shepparton Golf Club on Tuesday, February 28 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

●For more on the inquiry, see Country News, inside today’s Courier.

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