Dairy Farmers Demand Tougher Rules to Stop Supermarket Bullying

Queensland’s dairy industry is in crisis, and farmers say stronger laws are needed to stop supermarket tactics that drive down milk prices unfairly. Once a dairy powerhouse, Queensland must import about half its fresh milk supply. Dairy farmers are leaving the industry at twice the national rate.

At a recent inquiry into supermarket pricing, dairy farmers explained how years of pressure from supermarket giants like Coles and Woolworths has demoralised the industry and driven away young people. Since $1 per litre milk pricing started in 2011, the number of Queensland dairy farms has plunged by 60%.

The situation is so dire that if roads into Queensland were blocked, such as by a natural disaster, there wouldn’t be enough locally produced milk to meet consumer demand. 

While the $1 milk pricing ended in 2019 after public outcry and farm-gate milk prices have increased recently, the damage is already done. Farmers told the inquiry they haven’t been able to invest in new equipment or facilities due to years of low milk prices.

The dairy representatives backed recommendations to make the grocery code of conduct mandatory and increase penalties for supermarkets that break the rules. According to one farmer cooperative, the $1 milk scenario showed how supermarkets can manipulate prices however they want without considering the impact on suppliers.

Dairy farmer Joe Bradley explained that farmers fear reprisals from the powerful supermarkets and have little bargaining power since milk is a perishable product. “The cows still have to be milked twice a day. We are very much at the mercy of the powers that be,” he said.

Bradley, who leads a dairy farmer group, said supermarket pricing has “devastated” the industry, leaving little hope as the workforce ages and young people pursue other careers after seeing their parents’ struggles. “There are easier ways to make a living than dairy farming,” he said.

Bradley warned that if the dairy industry continues its decline, Australia may not produce enough fresh milk to meet consumer demand in the future. Farmers say new laws to curb supermarket bullying are crucial to saving this vital sector.

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