Razor thin margins and deregulation have more than halved the number of dairy families in WA, but despite constant publicity milk prices have stayed low.
One Nation and WA Farmers are speaking out again, calling for a more sustainable dairy industry.
WA Farmers CEO, Trevor Whittington, says that the catalyst for the declining farmgate prices was deregulation of the industry in the 90’s.
“Well since deregulation about 20 years ago, the industry has been in a slow and destructive decline. We had well over 400 dairy farmers, back then, and I think we’re down to around 130 now.”
According to Dairy Australia, our local dairy farmers receive a low price by world standards and have to run very efficient production systems to remain profitable.
Long hours and low income mean that the family business isn’t an attractive prospect to young people anymore.
“What’s happening is the next generation are not putting their hand up to go home to the dairy farm.”
“That’s usually after a long and painful period of losing money and and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel.”
The impact of constant financial hardship takes a toll on the mental health of farmers.
“Unfortunately our industry has high rates of mental health [problems], and all of those pressures are strongly linked to financial issues.
“There’s well-recognized pressures on farmers and unusually high rates of suicide.”
Whittington says that if prices remain the same, WA will lose its dairy industry altogether.,
“The threat is [we] might not be drinking West Australian milk. It could be milk that’s come out of the eastern states or, even worse imported, from New Zealand.”
No One Solution
But there’s no one solution to the crisis.
Whittington sees a role for the state government in preventing the Coles and Woolworths duopoly from expanding.
“The other thing is the state government could use their planning powers to cap the size of supermarkets, so they can’t build big new supermarkets until their share of the total grocery market declines.”
Colin Tincknell, leader of the WA branch of One Nation, is calling on the state government to set the negotiating table.
“I’m asking for Woolies, I’m asking for Coles to work with the farmers, the people that they represented for hundreds of years, to find an answer to this.
“I’m saying to Alannah [McTeirnan] and I’m saying to Mark [McGowan], show some leadership and make this happen now before massive damage is done to the industry.”
Tincknell is says that the issue is unconscionable and isn’t afraid of re-introducing regulation to the industry.
“It’s crazy that farmers would be losing money after doing all the work, providing this wonderful fresh milk for us in Western Australia,’ he said.
“And so, do you live by a blind ideology that’s not working, which is the free market, or do you make changes to do to support your population, your farmers.”