The big supermarkets have now passed on millions from their drought relief funds to Australian farmers, but those running farming businesses say there are still big fights to win to keep the sector alive.
On Monday Coles confirmed it would distribute $3.9 million to more than 600 farmers after collecting funds through a 10c increase in the price of some milk products between September and December 2018.
Woolworths has handed out $4.5 million through its payments and will continue collecting funds for another six months. The funds will be distributed to farmers in drought stricken areas in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
The payouts have sparked fierce debate on social media about whether the contributions are a suitable way to help farming communities through a continued period of drought.
The payments are “better than nothing”, says lobby group Farmer Power, but the organisation believes while the drought funds have helped some farming communities the fact that the levy scheme was voluntary resulted in a “piecemeal” approach to supporting farmers.
Farmer Power chief executive Garry Kerr said despite public support and the supermarket’s efforts, bigger issues like negotiations of the country’s dairy code aren’t getting the same attention as 10c milk price increases.
“We’re going to get to a point where we’re finished, the dairy industry is finished. The fact that farmers are saying that, that’s really scary,” he said.
Kerr says as the drought continues, attention should be placed not just on public support for farmers but also on contracts between farmers and milk processors.
“We’ve got to make sure the mandatory code is right,” he said.
Public consultation on a mandatory dairy code, which introduces new measures including standard form contracts between milk suppliers and processers, is continuing into February.
Supermarket, Coles to start handing out $3.9million it collect in drought relief funds from milk sales.
Good enough? Quick enough? pic.twitter.com/9wW0yxRgpz
— Warwick Long (@Warwick_Long) January 20, 2019
Farmers mounted a push last year to extend the milk levy, with many taking to social media this week to highlight that drought conditions have not improved.
The supermarkets have highlighted they will continue to support farming communities beyond the milk levy plan.
This week Coles confirmed it has now helped to pass on more than $16 million to farmers, including $7.1 million to the Country Women’s Association Drought relief fund.
Woolworths will continue its levy until the middle of the year and is working with its drought relief committee, including representatives from Dairy Connect and Parmalat.
The Australian Dairyfarmers Association says the industry is always grateful for the support, but “the drought has hit the entire sector extremely hard and the levy could not hope to help all dairy farmers”.
“Farmers don’t want a handout. We want a fair price for a quality product, but dairy farmers don’t set their own price and our priority in 2019 will be to keep the power imbalance between farmers, processors and retailers on the industry agenda,” Australian Dairy Farmers chairman Terry Richardson said.