Churning against regulation

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IN FOCUS: Nuffield scholar Shannon Notter.

VICTORIAN dairy farmers have reiterated to the government they don’t want the price of milk to be regulated, which they say would do more harm than good.

A parliamentary inquiry is investigating the performance and profitability of the nation’s dairy industry, and if the government should task the competition watchdog with looking in to how it can regulate the price of milk per litre paid by processors to dairy farmers.

From my perspective, I find it really hard to believe that our industry needs a levy on milk, which is basically taxing consumers, to pay a fair return to farmers. – Crossley dairy farmer, Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil

However, south-west Victorian dairy farmers and Nuffield scholar Shannon Notter was one of many to speak out against regulating the price of milk.

“For me and my business, I believe a floor price would be a negative result for the industry,” Ms Notter told the Senate committee.

“A levy on fresh milk may be a small benefit to some farmers in our region, although the negative impacts on trade may be worse than what would be gained.”

Ms Notter said developing risk management tools to allow farmers to spread risk beyond one season would be more beneficial than government intervention.

SPEAKING OUT: Crossley dairy farmer Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil spoke at a parliamentary inquiry into the dairy industry.

SPEAKING OUT: Crossley dairy farmer Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil spoke at a parliamentary inquiry into the dairy industry.

Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil, a dairy farmer with a property near Crossley in south west Victoria, warned against “managing the [dairy] industry to its grave”.

“From my perspective, I find it really hard to believe that our industry needs a levy on milk, which is basically taxing consumers, to pay a fair return to farmers,” Ms Singh-Mahil said.

“But I suppose a small levy might be the least worse option.”

ADVOCATE: Victorian dairy farmer Lisa Dwyer.

ADVOCATE: Victorian dairy farmer Lisa Dwyer.

Fellow south-west Victorian dairy farmer Lisa Dwyer urged the committee to take a “macro rather than micro view” and focus on “removing regulation rather than adding to it”.

“If we were to achieve just those things, Australian dairy can move up the value ladder, away from a price-taking commodity market and preserve our entrepreneurial culture towards high-value, high-profit dairy products,” Ms Dwyer said.

“We just need an environment that encourages growth, rather than impedes it.”

The inquiry also had a strong focus on the performance of Dairy Australia, which received heavy criticism from a number of witnesses.

Victorian dairy advocacy group Farmer Power raised questions around Dairy Australia’s spending habits, while others blasted its advocacy ability.

“We will not accept the current leaders of our dairy organisations continuing to lead us to the further decline of our industry,” Victorian dairy farmer Bernie Free said.

“Grassroots farmers are paying their levies, their voices must be heard and listened to. Successive advocacy leaders have let us down.”

Koroit, Vic, dairy farmer Oonagh Kilpatrick raised concerns about the direction of the Australian Dairy Plan, and said its leadership had to change and must be democratically elected.

“The farmers representative models must be options on the table for farmers to vote on,” Mrs Kilpatrick told the Senators.

“Let farmers democratically vote for what model they want, not be forced by a few at the top of these organisations.”

The parliamentary committee will release a full report about its findings by November 12, a date that has been pushed back three times from the original timeline of late June.

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