NEXT week’s Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) forum in Taree into milk pricing will be the only one held in NSW.
Australian Farm Institute executive director and the ACCC's agricultural commissioner Mick Keogh, who will be running the forum with ACCC staff, said Taree was chosen because of its solid dairy industry base.
The forum is at Club West from noon on Tuesday. Oxley Island’s Jane Polson and her husband Murray of Oxley Vale Holsteins will be among the many farmers in attendance.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for farmers in our valley to have their say in the dairy industry and it’s quite a compliment the ACCC forum is in Taree – the only one in NSW,” Mrs Polson said
“The forum is on our doorstep so we’d be silly not to take the opportunity to let them know how we feel about the industry and the challenges we’ve been facing and hopefully look at a long term solution.”
The Polsons and other Manning farmers met with federal member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie before Christmas to discuss the industry’s problems and how the government can assist.
“We’ve met Barnaby Joyce in Wauchope last year, then Dr David Gilllespie and now we’ve got this – we need to keep going,’’ Mrs Polson said.
“If we don’t fight for our industry, we are not going to have one. We’ve really got to band together and not demand but push for a fair price. We don’t want to be rich – we just want to have profit.
“We’ve got the consumer support and we really need a change to ensure our industry is sustainable. We want our regional town to be successful. People want to support us, they want to drink Australian milk and the only way that’s going to happen in the future is if our local farmers are supported.”
ACCC's agricultural commissioner Mick Keogh said the the forum will start with a brief introduction on the inquiry before questions are asked of the audience on a series of issues such as their price contracts.
Mr Keogh ensured no one will need to register to speak at the forum and online registration is simply for catering numbers.
“Anyone can turn up,” Mr Keogh assured.
“We’ll hold an afternoon tea where people can also approach me and the ACCC staff to talk. We tend to find some people can be reluctant to stand up and talk about problems with their contractors in public – but we are there to listen from start to finish.”
Mr Keogh said the forum will be an essential tool for the ACCC to understand the NSW dairy industry and allow people to “spell out” their issues clearly.
Mrs Polson applauded the ACCC for hosting the forum for dairy farmers.
“I think it’s a lot less structured than sitting down and writing,” she said.
“Because we don’t have time to do that, we are so hard pressed and it’s so busy because we’re so pushed for labour with our costs and most people do everything themselves. At the end of the night to sit down and write out a submission, it’s just hard. Farmers deserve the right to express what they feel and what they’ve gone through and what they hope to achieve.”
Among the issues Mrs Polson will raise is the lack of competition between suppliers, supermarkets dominance of their own brand and lack of transparency in price contracts.
“We know what we are getting for our milk, but we don’t know what they are paying the processors, and at the end of the day when their profits are falling, it’s us who are getting continuously squeezed.
“We also lack the right to negotiate a fairer price, we don’t have that right – we are just told that’s the price.”
She hopes the inquiry will be the beginning of re-building the dairy industry.
“It’s a hard industry to get into and as a young person, you probably wouldn’t do it. Because it’s just too hard,” Mrs Polson said.
“There’s already one young farmer in our area who has given up, because he was going backwards and that’s just so sad. The fact that he wanted to have a go, but the industry is not sustainable enough for him to make a living out of it.”