One of three farmers dropped by Brownes Dairy at the end of last month has been forced to tip his grade one milk out because no one wants it.
On Tuesday afternoon fifth-generation, award-winning dairy farmer Graham Manning was forced to drain close to 16,000 litres of chilled fresh milk into his Harvey dairy’s effluent pit, to be pumped onto paddocks.
“It’s devastating, not something that should happen, but it has,” Mr Manning said as he and WAFarmers dairy council president Michael Partridge watched the milk pour from the tap on the vat into a drain to the effluent pit.
“We’re very proud of our milk and this is not what we want, it has been forced on us.”
His on-farm refrigerated holding tank was full from milkings since Sunday afternoon when a Harvey Fresh tanker made its last collection.
Although it cost him to run the refrigeration plant, Mr Manning had cooled the milk and kept it chilled just in case a last-minute solution to his problem, and that of fellow dairy farmers Dale Hanks, Harvey, and Tony Ferraro, Wagerup, popped up.
They had been granted a temporary two-week reprieve that came out of the blue after Brownes activated a September 30 deadline in their contracts and cut them off because it claimed to have too much milk.
A mystery client of Harvey Fresh bought their milk, albeit for a much lower price than they had been receiving from Brownes, but at least it had been picked up and processed, not wasted.
They had been told nothing further about a trial their milk was being used for, only that it would not be picked up after Sunday.
By Tuesday afternoon Mr Manning’s tank was full and he had nowhere to put milk from the 230 cows left from his herd of up to 350 that had not been dried off and still had to be milked.
Aware that the Environment Protection Authority would be watching his every move, he had no option but to tip his milk out.
He, Mr Hanks and Mr Ferraro have all cut their production back from a combined total of almost 27,000 litres a day before their contracts with Brownes expired to less than 18,000 litres a day this week and are still dropping it rapidly.
“If they (processors) really wanted to, they could pick us up,” a disappointed Mr Manning said.
“There’s only the three of us.’’
Mr Manning said that when major Capel dairy procesing co-operative Challenge Australia Dairy went under in 2011, 44 affected dairy farmers had to find homes for their milk.
“The (State agriculture) minister at the time (Terry Redman) just said ‘right, you’re going to Harvey Fresh, you’re going to Brownes, you’re going to Lion’ and that’s what happened.
“Where’s the State government been this time?” Mr Manning asked.
It visibly upsets him just talking about tipping out his milk.
His family has been producing milk in WA since the 1860s and he has been doing it for 40 years on the property his father established with a war-service loan.
For the past 14 years he has been ranked by Dairy Australia in the top 5 per cent of Australian dairy farmers each year because of the quality of his milk and for nine of those years he was amongst the top 1pc.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” Mr Manning said.
“I can keep milking, and keep it cold in case something develops, for about three and a half weeks, but that costs money.
“After that I’m out, I’ve been forced out of the industry.”
Mr Manning said his refrigerated tank could hold 16,000 litres and his remaining milkers produced “just under 8000 litres a day” so he expects to have to tip milk out every second day.
If there are no late developments in dealing with WA’s surplus milk he will sell 240 cows in coming weeks and retain only pregnant cows and enough lactating cows to feed his calves.
“That’ll be it for me as a dairy farmer,” he said.
Another of the three, Mr Hanks said he had avoided having to tip milk out so far, having dried off half his remaining herd last week and the rest this week.
Three weeks ago the third generation dairy farmer and former chairman of Dairy Australia’s WA arm Western Dairy, was milking 270 cows twice a day, employing the equivalent of 2.5 full-time workers.
Now, without a contract to supply anyone, he is milking about 30 cows once a day on his own and trying to cut milk production to only enough to feed the calves he has on the property.
Mr Hanks said he has “parked” some cows in other herds, helped out by friends in the industry who realise that the predicament he finds himself in could just as easily have happened to them, and dried out or sold the rest.
“The really disappointing thing is that I’ve had to dry off cows that still had eight, nine, ten weeks milk in them,” Mr Hanks said.
“That has to have some implications for the whole (WA dairy) industry.
“What’s happening is disgraceful for the whole industry – disgraceful for the processors,” he said.
“It’s not just the three of us being forced out, this will have a lasting effect on the industry as a whole.
“This will depress the whole (WA) dairy industry.”
Mr Hanks believed there was a market for cheese in WA.
Cheese manufacture has traditionally been the dairy processors’ way of using extra milk production from contracted suppliers during the spring flush.
It is one of few dairy products that can be produced in bulk when there is surplus milk then released gradually over time onto the retail market so as not to flood the market.
Early in his tenure as Brownes managing director Tony Girgis closed the company’s Brunswick cheese factory and shut down cheese manufacture.
He said while bulk block cheese production covered costs, the cheese division overall made a loss once the bulk blocks were cut up and wrapped for retail sale.
Talks at the end of last month between Brownes, WAFarmers’ dairy council, State and federal agriculture department representatives and Jim Chown, Agriculture Region MLC and secretary to the Agriculture and Food minister, failed to get the Brunswick cheese factory reopened as a temporary solution to milk oversupply.
Comment was sought from new Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis on the situation where a dairy farmer had to tip milk out because it was not wanted, but none was received by the time Farm Weekly went to press.