A man in a high vis orange long sleeved shirt stands in a dairy shed with no cows in it.

Rising costs and labor shortages are forcing dairy producers to reassess their operations. Will the industry survive?

Twice a day for more than half a century, the Wilson family has milked cows at their Calico Creek dairy near Gympie. But now owner Martin Wilson has decided to call it quits.

His jersey milkers have been sold and the bulls will be next, as he converts his farm to raise more valuable beef cattle.

“It was prime time to get out. It’s getting harder and harder trying to find staff,” he said.

“As for going forward, 10 years, 20 years or whatever with Woolworths and Coles determining the price at the end of the shelf, I don’t see any future.”

Mr. Wilson’s dairy will be dismantled.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

The perilous state of Queensland’s dairy will become clearer in July as farmers decide whether or not to sign new dairy contracts.

Although processors are now offering record pricesthe dairy industry is in steep decline and one wonders if it will survive the next decade.

Since deregulation in 2000, the number of dairy farms in the state has fallen from 1,500 to less than 280, and the exodus is not over.

Of the 573.8 million liters of fresh milk sold in Queensland last year, only 53 per cent (309.5 million litres) was produced in Queensland, the rest was trucked in from southern states where the cost of production was lower.

Cows in the yard near the dairy.
The cows have to be milked even if it’s Christmas morning.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Livestock specialist John Cochrane recently sold five Queensland dairy herds in five weeks.

“Even if the prices have increased a little, the costs are exploding.

“It’s very difficult to get labor and the age of farming is increasing, so they really need help. They need labor and they can’t get it. .

“Cattle prices are good, land prices are good. If there is no money, why would they want to continue.”

a man with his hands in his pocket standing in a room with refrigerators looks at the camera
John Cochrane helped sell five dairy herds in five weeks.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Generational change

After five generations of dairy cows, Mr. Cochrane’s own family is done milking the cows.

His son recently left the industry.

As owner of Kenilworth Dairies, Mr Cochrane senior now relies on other farmers to get milk to process in his factory.

“The social pressures are so strong these days and there are good jobs where they can earn good money,” he said.

“Who wants to get out of bed at three o’clock on Christmas morning to milk cows for people who don’t want to pay for your product?”

Dairy cows eating from a long trough.
Farmers say feed costs have gone up.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Representing dairy farmers in Queensland and northern New South Wales, who primarily supply the fresh milk market, eastAUSmilk co-managing director Shaughn Morgan said input costs had doubled over the past the past year and worried about the future.

“It is deeply concerning, particularly when some processors are bringing in milk from Victoria,” Mr Morgan said.

Code of conduct

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chairman Mick Keogh said the mandatory dairy code, which was introduced in January 2020, had improved price transparency for farmers.

By June 1, milk processors are required to publish the prices they will offer farmers for new contracts in July, and the ACCC has moved from educating processors about the code to enforcing it.

A man in a blue shirt stands outside a building.
Mick Keogh says the dairy code has increased transparency.(Rural ABC: Kallee Buchanan)

“There’s been a culture shift in the industry, where in the past processors wouldn’t even publish their prices until June 30,” Mr Keogh said.

“Now farmers have sort of 30 days before the start of the new dairy season to look at all the available offers and make their own decisions rather than being forced to jump on something because they didn’t know what to do. other was available.”

Difficult moments

Dairy Cooperative Norco, whose processing plant and suppliers have been hit hard by flooding in northern New South Wales and southeast Queensland, is offering a record price of 84.5 cents per liter for its northern suppliers and 82.3 cents for its southern suppliers.

Lactalis said it would raise its farmgate milk price by nine cents per liter to 81 cents per liter in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

A bull in the foreground with other cattle in the background of a paddock.
Generations of herding have entered the Wilson family herd.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

Martin Wilson said his decision to stop milk production was made easier by the fact that his milkers were not butchered.

Maleny Dairies owners Ross and Sally Hopper bought the herd to expand their business.

The couple are investing millions of dollars in upgrading their processing and bottling plant. They own a dairy farm, rent two others and are currently supplied by 10 other local farmers.

Ross Hopper smiling at the camera with stacked milk crates and the robot behind him.
Ross Hopper is working to expand the operations of Maleny Dairies.(Rural ABC: Jennifer Nichols)

“It works, obviously it all comes down to customer support,” Hopper said.

“It goes back to the story of what we promote. We want to take care of our farmers, we want to pay them the right price because obviously if we don’t have our farmers, we won’t have a future with local milk.”

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