Independent dairies take on duopoly
THE milk trench warfare Coles and Woolworths are waging is strangling the Queensland dairy industry and forcing farmers to either sell out, or go it alone.
A number of independent producers and distributors battled their way into the market after de-regulation at the turn of the millennium.
Supermarket giants are selling milk for $1 a litre, even as the export market sits at closer to $1.40.
Unfortunately, Queensland's milk export machinery has been dismantled, leaving farmers unwilling or unable to afford bottling to watch their income dwindle.
Lynward Queensland Milk owner Graham MacIntyre launched his maroon-labelled milk in September last year, faced with the option of selling generations of history with the farm or striking out.
From just supplying a few stores in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, he now covers much of south-east Queensland including the Gold Coast and out to Ipswich.
Now one of the big supermarket players could supply his product.
"My aim is to keep my family farm going," he said.
"If I didn't do this, we would have been sold up and given up dairying."
The jersey milk he sells, like many other independent producers, is often richer than other store-bought milks.
Something Baffle Fresh Dairy owner Bruce Poulsen on the Fraser Coast sells products between Childers and Gladstone.
He said it was still a challenge competing against "the cut-throat big boys".
"The industry as a whole - this dollar milk stuff is not good for the industry long term," Mr Poulsen said.
"It's too much power to the supermarkets and too much to the processors.
"(Farmers) are getting paid 10%-15% less than they were 10 years ago.
"Noone works for less than they did 10 years ago."
He said that was why farmers were trying to breakaway from the major brands, even though it would not be easy.
However, many would never be able to take on the risks.
"It's a different mindset to market your product than it is to just put it in a vat and hoping the big fellas pick it up," he said.
"And it can be a massive capital expense."
Both he and Mr MacIntyre said the milk was simply better tasting when bought from an independent producer.
"If people could just do this test - make a cup of coffee with $1 milk and one with independent milk.
"They would tell instantly that one was 1000% better."
Queensland Dairy Organisation president Brian Tessman said the state industry "should not be stuffed", with demand for milk both here and overseas being so strong.
He wants the State Government to act to help save the industry.
"The government needs to look at this question," he said.
"Is killing the cheapest and best sort of milk for Queensland producers something that should happen?
"The government should see that the market for domestic milk operates fairly and freely."
Agriculture minister John McVeigh said the government would do everything to help through cutting red tape but could not offer any financial assistance to dairy farmers.