FIFTEEN million litres of milk will this year be siphoned from the dairy cows that graze on seven local farms to meet increasing demand for Manning Valley Farmer's Own.
Customers of Woolworths Taree yesterday pushed their shopping trolleys through a cluster of dairy farmers, local councillors and media to try to access the fridge and claim a container of the locally produced milk.
Standing front and centre and happily sampling the range of milk was NSW acting premier, Andrew Stoner.
His visit to Taree marked a significant milestone in the two-year development of Manning Valley Farmer's Own. The Woolworths brand began with a trial of just eight local stores and 12 Sydney stores, but consumer demand has seen Woolworths decide to expand distribution to 105 stores in NSW.
Mr Stoner described the announcement as "a great news story."
"This is good for Manning Valley dairy farms who have been going through tough times, including drought. The success of this brand shows that people want good, old-fashioned, high quality milk that is locally sourced," Mr Stoner said.
Echoing his comments was Woolworths head of trade, Tony de Thomasis, who was animated in his enthusiasm for the product, which he declared was "the second best selling milk in the local area."
Standing in the wings, watching the passing parade of politicians and businessmen was dairy farmer, Adrian Drury of Upper Lansdowne.
Every day his farms feeds and milks around 400 dairy cows. It's a task that delivers around 6000 litres of milk, down on normal production figures as the impact of the drought hits his Friesian and crossbred cows.
He is thankful Woolworths has ramped-up the Manning Valley Farmer's Own brand and says it will help to ensure the long-term survival of the dairy industry in the region.
Consumer confidence in the product is really important to its success, according to Adrian.
"The community can be confident that it is local milk. There are protocols in place to ensure the milk from the seven farms goes to Sydney for processing, and is then returned to the Manning Valley to be sold in Woolworths," he explained.
The statewide distribution deal comes with a three-year Woolworths contract and that, according to Adrian, "provides a level of certainty and makes it easier to budget."
The need for careful budgeting is critical in drought, with milk production per cow down and the cost of production up.
Adrian said the current season sees his cost of production sit around $50,000 a month, about $20,000 more than normal. The additional cost pressures mean "you really have got to work hard to balance the budget."
"During negotiations with Woolworths the cost of production was a focus, as was the need to place our industry on a sustainable footing it needs a certain level of profit for it to survive."
Julian Piega's dairy farm on Harrington Road is about half the size of Adrian's business, but he is working to manage similar cost pressures.
He has around 190 cows and with low feed on the ground, each day they must be fed an additional one tonne of grain at $450, two bales of lucerne at $400, and three bales of silage at around $200.
The food bill is an additional stress to a workload that sees him milking for five hours-a-day, feeding for three-hours-a-day plus all the other odd-jobs that come with the role.
He came to the industry in 1988 and remembers the dairy industry heyday when Monday at the saleyards was an enormous business and social event.
"You had to be there by 9.30am to get a park, but now, you could go there at any time and set-off a shot gun and not hit anyone," Julian said.
"This deal with Woolworths gives some security to our local dairy industry.
"It enables me to talk to the bank, to plan and to feel secure for a few years."