Coles' announcement last week that it intends to start direct negotiations with dairy farmers in Victoria and NSW again highlighted the need for unity within the industry.
The announcement brought a barrage of opinions from individuals and service organisations as to whether the proposed arrangement would benefit farmers. Cautious optimism seemed to be the prevailing opinion, but this was measured by a hefty dose of cynicism as to the motivations for the supermarket chain to enter direct relationships with dairy farms.
The biggest concern is the lack of negotiating power individual farmers may have when negotiating with Coles. Certainly, if Coles pays an additional 10 cents/litre or $1.30/kg for milk solids then farmers will be in a better position than they are currently.
Over the past year, farmers are talking more openly about the farm gate prices being paid by their various processors for fresh milk. In some instances, this has been in defiance of confidentiality clauses. Be that as it may, the ability to compare farmgate prices and the bonuses being offered have helped provide a clearer picture of the industry nationally.
What is now abundantly clear is that the dairy industry needs to be unified. The divisions that have existed based on state borders need to be removed and farmers should be looking at collective bargaining arrangements rather than having to fend for themselves.
By getting together, farmers may have a better opportunity to have input into negotiations than if they stay on their own. It's clear that the current 'every man for himself' mentality is a major barrier to the long-term success of the dairy industry. This mentality currently applies not only to the individual farmers but also to the states and the industry bodies.
QDO is working on a number of projects with the other state-based dairy bodies where our interests are the same. What we are finding is that there is more common ground than there are differences and we can be more efficient when we pool our resources.
By combining knowledge and experience we can create a stronger and more resilient dairy industry.