Farmers that attended a meeting at Tongala yesterday said they were struggling to make ends meet due to low milk prices.By Geoff Adams
The dairy industry faces a pessimistic future unless it can get better milk prices, speakers told a public protest meeting at Tongala yesterday.
The meeting was organised by a new farm lobby group which developed spontaneously out of an emotional protest in a Western District town last month.
Dairy farmers say their milk prices are running below their cost of production and fear they will be forced to leave the industry.
The meeting attracted some colorful conservative politicians, including National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce.
Senator Joyce accused big supermarkets of exploiting dairy farmers and urged dairy farmers to stick together with other farm commodity groups.
He said milk was now being sold on supermarket shelves at a price less than bottled water.
Ausbuy representative Lynne Wilkinson told farmers the Australian Government had negotiated ‘‘free trade’’ agreements with the United States which did not benefit Australia for 15 to 20 years, while cheap imported food flooded into Australia.
She said every major food commodity except rice was controlled by foreign interests, including 75 per cent of the country’s dairy brands. Also, free trade agreements were not free nor in Australia’s interest if it meant growers and processors were competing against foreign government-subsidised products, she said.
Most of the crowd had to stand up as seating was limited, but they waited quietly during the two-and-a-half hour meeting.
Supermarkets are paying suppliers, including dairy farmers, less because they are in a constant push to increase profits, entrepreneur Dick Smith OAM said.
Mr Smith said the obsession with increased growth and profits was not sustainable and would have consequences for Australians’ way of life.
He told the meeting he was shocked Australia had become a net importer of food.
‘‘It’s globalisation gone mad and it’s capitalism gone mad,’’ Mr Smith said.
Farmer Power northern co-ordinator Nigel Hicks said he was pleased with the meeting and impressed by the number of people who turned out.
One of the organisation’s goals is to have the wider community understand the issues and he noted the large number of media representatives who attended.
Some farmers were unhappy the speakers took almost two hours before the farmers could make their points.
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