Land of milk and no money

The Prime Minister was in Brisbane yesterday handing over a $1.2 million technology grant to a smallgoods company.

A half a dozen kilometres from the centre of Tamworth Brian Wilson was milking his dairy cows pondering the future of an industry under siege.

While it is good the Primo Smallgoods factory at Wacol near Brisbane has got some federal cash, provided by the carbon tax, to enable it to introduce more energy-efficient practices, no one is sending any money Brian Wilson’s way.

In fact he says he is $80,000 worse off in the last financial year, blaming his financial misfortune on the Coles and Woolworths duopoly.

For him the announced investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into Coles and Woolworths’ treatment of supplies cannot come soon enough. He sees and hears the stories of battling dairy farmers all the time. There is even a chapter written on his own experiences.

The competitive tender process, he says, producers go through to win the Coles and Woolworths milk contract, means some farmers are forced to sell their milk at a loss.

He points the finger at the one dollar per litre price war which has been waged by the two supermarkets for more than a year.

With some farmers being forced out of the industry and with the supermarket giants growing their market share, producers like Brian Wilson worry about the future and where the current debacle will end.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country manufacturers are feeling similar pressures. The push by the supermarkets to ditch recognised brands and have them replaced by generic self-labelled products is also coming at a cost. The value of company-owned established lines is being diminished.

Regardless of what the ACCC investigation finds, governments need to act to protect the important industries which are essential to Australia’s wellbeing.

With the volume of imported foods increasing because it suits the retailer, is it any wonder dairy farmers and manufacturers are facing such a bleak future?

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