Another inner-city trendy (Scout) on rural issues.
My father was the son of a dairy farmer in Scott’s Creek, Victoria. In the early days of their courtship, on one of their first excursions into the hinterland, my Queenslander mother impressed my father by pointing out the different breeds of cattle. (She had spent a good hour memorizing them in preparation.) Even though I’m a city slicker now, my father still owns a small herd and takes every other weekend to the farm in Kiama, New South Wales, to help muster and milk.
Three months ago today marked the beginning of the end of the sour “milk wars”, which my family took a keen interest in. 2011 saw leading supermarkets Coles and Woolworths essentially cut the brand name out of milk and buy directly from processors to serve up their own home-brand milk for prices as low as a dollar per litre. Recent commentators have criticised the “supa-low” prices as unsustainable. Dairy Farmers, Paul’s and Pura began to lose out. In 2012, three quarters of the milk bought at Coles and Woolworths was the $1-a-litre home-brand. In response, Dairy Farmers ran an effective campaign drawing attention to Coles and Woolworth’s penchants to add extra permeate* to bulk up their product. The major brands dropped their asking prices to as low as thirteen cents per litre for farmers. Combined with a devastating drought in Victoria, this brought the dairy industry to its knees.
But now, supermarket chains are doing business directly with farm co-ops, guaranteeing suppliers a premium above normal farm-gate price. On April 11 this year, Murray Goulburn, a Victorian famers-owner co-operative, and Norco, a similar NSW co-op, secured contracts to supply Coles home-brand milk in Victoria, NSW and south-east Queensland for the next ten years.
But as the deal is set to restructure the milk processing side of Australia’s dairy industry, let’s take a look at the real characters behind the scenes. (You never know, you might need it up your sleeve if you ever consider pursuing happiness in Farmer Wants A [Insert Spousal Title Here].)
Originally from the Netherlands, the Holstein is the biggest and most popular breeding animal. They produce twenty-eight litres of milk daily. Alias Daisy.
Exported from the island of Jersey, this animal is fairly small. Its milk is ideal for making butter because it’s particularly creamy.
This breed was developed in New South Wales, first recognized in 1910. Some Illawarra produce in excess of forty litres of milk per day.
Also hailing from the English Channel, these cows originate from Guernsey. Each day they produce twenty-two litres of milk with a distinctive golden colour.
Bred by combining Scandinavian Reds with Illawarra, the Aussie Red is a hardy specimen, producing milk with high protein content. Also responds to Sheila.
*Permeate is the collective term for the natural lactose, vitamin and mineral components which are separated from fresh milk by ultrafiltration. It’s not harmful, but used as a filler to “bulk up” the product by increasing volume.