Renegade dairy lobbyists Farmer Power call it quits to join forces with remaining pressure groups | Ralph-Lauren

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It was the renegade dairy lobby group that held angry rallies in regional Victoria, marched on Melbourne and called for an end to dollar-a-litre milk. 

But the leadership of Farmer Power has decided the time for fighting is over and are disbanding after 10 years.

“We’ve always said Farmer Power was the little mouse that roared,” outgoing CEO Garry Kerr told the Victorian Country Hour.

Fed up with the actions of the traditional farm lobby sector as supermarkets dropped the price of fresh milk to $1 a litre in 2011, Farmer Power was created at a rally at Noorat in 2013.

Another rally was held in northern Victoria at Tongala the same year with Dick Smith, Barnaby Joyce and Bob Katter among those addressing a crowd of over 500 disillusioned dairy farmers.

People standing on the steps of the Victorian parliament holding signs calling for support for dairy farmers

Farmer Power organised 2016 protests at Victoria’s State Parliament to campaign against retrospective milk price cuts.(ABC Rural: Danielle Grindlay)

Ultimately a march on Melbourne which was held as farmers protested that supermarket milk prices were in many cases lower than that of bottled water.

“No one was taking any actions to take on the supermarkets and they decided to hold a rally,” Mr Kerr said.

“It had over 1,000 people in attendance and garnered so much media coverage at a time dairy farmers were doing extremely tough.”

Dairy farmers no longer being milked

Ten years later the leaders of Farmer Power believe they are leaving the industry in a better place.

One dollar per litre milk is gone, a mandatory code of conduct is in place to ensure fair dealings between milk processors and farmers and farm gate milk prices are at record prices.

Mr Kerr said the organisation was instrumental in convincing the government to pass a strong dairy code and that will be remembered as its crowning achievement.

“It wouldn’t have happened the way that it did. The politics were huge, especially with the (milk) processors involved, they were lobbying hard for no mandatory code.”

The dairy mandatory code came into place in 2020 and governs contracts between farmers and processors, requiring milk companies to set a minimum milk price for the year.

“It is something very special for dairy farmers,” Mr Kerr said.

“And as most would admit, it’s seen farmer get record prices over the last few years and that’s been an excellent result for them.”

Milk bottles on shelves

Supermarkets started lifting milk prices again in 2019, eight years after they dropped it to $1a litre (ABC Southern Queensland: David Chen)

“It’s still tough for dairy farmers, but at least now, they are on a level playing field.”

From fighting UDV to joining forces

Farmer Power will now fold and throw support behind the traditional dairy lobby group it fought so hard against.

The United Dairy Farmers (UDV) of Victoria has long been the peak group for dairy farmers in the state and is part of the Victorian Farmers Federation.

The UDV didn’t support Farmer Power protests in Melbourne or the dairy mandatory code, and has had its own controversy in 2023.

Earlier this year most of the leadership of the UDV resigned and created their own renegade dairy lobby called Dairy Farmers Victoria.

Herd of cows in grassy field.

Victoria’s dairy industry has been in steady decline, in terms of licences. (Supplied: Van Dairy)

Victorian dairy farmer Bernie Free remained at the UDV and has set about holding elections to revive the group.

Faced with a situation where Victoria’s dairy industry would have three groups claiming to represent farmers and lobbying on their behalf, Farmer Power decided to fold and throw its support behind Mr Free and the UDV.

“There is still work to be done in uniting the industry and from Farmer Power’s point of view this is our way of doing it,” Mr Kerr said.

It comes at a time when Victoria’s dairy industry, which is the biggest in Australia, continues to diminish. 

Dairy Food Safety Victoria’s annual report said dairy farm licences dropped 8 per cent to 2,796 farms, compared to the previous financial year, which according to the regulator formed the biggest year-on-year contraction in licences. 

Key stories of the day for Australian primary producers, delivered each weekday afternoon.

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