You might have seen this segment on The Project on Tuesday night, or read about how dairy farmers are being “milked dry” (I shared it on my Facebook page yesterday).
I first read about the issue on the landline website which you should also check out.
Being married to a farmer, I get to see first hand how the whims of big businesses can affect farmers and the livelihoods. I’m pretty passionate about this issue, so I’ve left my usual food/garden/craft type post for another day, and instead, I want to talk about a few of the realities that farmers face when they grow our food.
Farmers are not making raging profits. Most farmers have a love of the land, and very often the farm has been in the family for generations so there is a feeling of stewardship over their land. I know that Country Boy and his father feel indebted to their fore bearers and duty bound to do their best to ensure the farm passes on to one of our children. They have a sense of belonging to our farm. They work long hours looking after the farm and stock and make only a modest financial gain from this.
The price that farmers are paid at the farm gate for their produce is only a small fraction of what you pay in the supermarket. Farmers are constantly finding that the price that they are paid for their produce is decreasing, while at the same time their costs are rising. Every time a new rule or regulation comes in there are more costs involved. We’ve had an incredibly dry few months and so we’re feeding sheep a few times a week to make sure they get enough to eat. This costs money and eats into our profits too.
Dairy farmers are definitely doing it super tough at the moment. Businesses which have been in families for generations are being pushed to the wall in the name of corporate greed and cost cutting. As farmers of meat (lamb) and wool, Country Boy and his father have seen prices for their product change according to the demands of big business. I cannot even imagine how we would cope if we were told that price we were being paid for our sheep and wool was less than it cost to produce.
Country Boy and I often talk about the disconnect that people seem to have between what they eat and where it comes from. Food is so cheap and so plentiful, that we no longer consider the time, effort, and resources that go into growing it. We don’t think about the people working at the other end of the food chain when we pick up our milk in the supermarket. We don’t remember that there are actual real families whose livelihood depends on us being prepared to pay a decent price for their product. The supermarkets fight to dominate the market with their low prices (Down, Down and Cheap Cheap anyone??) and we think that this is good because food becomes cheaper for the consumer, without considering who is paying for this cheap food (hint – it’s not the supermarkets).
It’s such a big issue and I don’t have all the answers, but I do know one thing:
You can help dairy farmers (and other farmers too) by voting with your shopping cart. Buy brand name milk and dairy products (here’s a link to a list of brands to buy), but don’t stop there. Buy locally grown where ever possible. Visit farmers markets. In the supermarket choose Australian branded products for as many of your groceries as possible and avoid the generics. Choose products that are made from Australian ingredients. The new labeling laws that begin in July should make this a lot easier for consumers. Buy Australian made, Australian grown products, preferably from Australian owned companies. Yes you will pay a little more, but this little bit makes a big difference to Australian farmers everywhere.
In Australia we are so fortunate to have a safe, high quality food supply. The only way this will continue is if farmers can continue to farm their land. If we want this high quality, safe food, perhaps it’s time to put our money where our mouth is and pay what our food is worth.
Have you been following this debate? Are you changing what milk you buy? Do you even consider where your food comes from? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!