‘Ghost towns’ predicted if dairy fails
AN INDUSTRY on its knees is relying on a shake-up to bring it back from the brink of collapse and restore confidence in Atherton Tableland towns expected to be transformed into "ghost towns" if the dairy industry goes under.
A thriving industry of hundreds of producers has been slowly whittled back to 43 dairy farms supplying Lion Dairy and Drink and nine supplying Mungalli Creek Dairy following deregulation of the industry in the 2000s.
Since deregulation the Malanda processing plant streamlined operations by discontinuing cheese, yoghurt and casein production.
During the last 20 years the workforce has halved.
Two years of unseasonably dry weather, farmers walking off the land and turning to beef production has wiped another 5 million litres off total production in the last financial year.
Manager of the Malanda Bakery Teresa Davis said she feared a total collapse would have a catastrophic effect on Malanda.
"To be honest it would (turn) us into a very small little ghost town," she said.
"(The processing plant) is one of the biggest employers in the town. With Malanda we have diversified with all the little subdivisions, it's become a big retiree area but we still have a lot of young families who rely on that income that comes from the milk factory which then comes down to all the other (businesses)."
China Mengniu Dairy Company Limited is poised to take over the Lion Dairy and Drink owned Malanda processing plant in an acquisition expected to be given the green light by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the International Financial Review Board.
Colin Daley was born on the Our Way Holstein Dairy at Millaa Millaa and has worked the land ever since.
He's hopeful the takeover will benefit the industry in "crisis" at a make or break turning point.
"If something doesn't happen in the next few months it will not be saved and you will be trucking in every litre of milk consumed in North Queensland," he said.
"We are heavily relying on Mengniu to bring a new lease of life to the industry up here but we also need the supermarkets to play the game and to be fair and reasonable.
"National pricing does not work in areas like ours. Our processor tells us it costs over a $1 million a year to service the western market because they have to get milk out there for a $1 a litre for the Coles and Woolies in Mount Isa.
"That's not fair."
A perfect storm created by dry weather halving milk production, rising input costs and producers under contract to deliver milk to the processor at about 62.1¢ per litre has brought the industry to its knees.
"The cost of production has gone through the roof but the returns haven't gone up," he said.
"The ability of the processors to get more for the farmers through the supermarkets just hasn't been there.
"With the stroke of a pen (the supermarkets) can change it."