UPDATE: IF DAIRY farmers donít start receiving a fairer price for their milk, there will be more public protests.
That was the message from Grassmere contractors who had eight tractors parked outside Coles in Warrnambool for about five hours this afternoon.
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John and Vashti Houston, Houston Engineering and Contracting said the ripple affect of unsustainable farmgate prices was costing their business hundreds of thousands of dollars.
They said if nothing happens to improve the financial situation of dairy farmers there would be more protests.
The couple said country towns and businesses rely on farmers and when farmers are hurting the whole region feels the pain.
"(The protest) was more to make people aware, the community and business, aware how much they are reliant on farmers," John said.
"There is no way (the town) would be what it is if it wasn’t for the farmers."
The couple said they wanted to support farmers following an emotional dairy crisis meeting at Noorat on Monday night, and made a last-minute decision to take the tractors to Warrnambool for a peaceful protest.
The meeting attracted more than 600 people and they were all concerned about the future of the dairy industry and the flow-on community affects of unsustainable farmgate prices.
Some suggestions to help the industry from Monday night included, boosting awareness of the industry with protests, interest free survival loans, removing the carbon tax as well as small business tax concessions and improving roads to reduce transport costs.
"Things have to change, it can’t keep going this way," John said.
The Houstons said their attack was not directed at any particular supermarket chain, they also parked tractors outside Woolworths, but rather it was a statement to supermarkets, milk processors and politicans.
For example, it was up to milk processors to improve efficiencies, particularly in transport, and pass savings back to farmers.
Like many businesses that serve the dairy industry, Vashti said they have some clients who have run bills out to 90 days or more.
"The farmers would pass it on if they had it but they haven’t got it," she said.
"5-10 cents (a litre extra) doesn’t equate to a huge amount in the scheme of things but it would mean a lot at the end of the day and for the ripple affect (down to business)."
A Woolworths spokesperson said today that when it came to milk, Woolworths had been a price follower on the issue – matching its major competitor’s price in the market following price decreases in early 2011.
The spokesperson said Woolworths took a keen interest in the dairy sector and was concerned about the future of the industry.
"Woolworths is committed to supporting Australian farmers. We source 100 per cent of our fresh meat (beef, lamb, pork and poultry) and 97 per cent of our fresh fruit and vegetables from Australia.
"Woolworths works closely with our suppliers to see farmers get a fair return for their product. Woolworths will continue to focus on providing our customers with more Australian grown fresh food.
"Woolworths strongly believes securing a future for Australia’s farmers involves working in partnerships with industry to develop new products, promote innovation, increase local supply, build leadership in the agricultural sector’s future leaders and foster sustainable practices to ensure our country’s long term food security."
Coles spokesperson Julia Balderstone said the supermarket giant understood the difficulties facing dairy farmers and was keen to support them.
"Coles brand milk only represents four per cent of milk production in Australia but when we introduced lower prices, we still wanted to do the right thing by dairy farmers so we fully absorbed the lower retail price by reducing our own margin from an average of 55 cents on a two litre pack to an average of 10 cents for two litres," she said.
"In fact, we also paid a higher price to dairy processing companies so they, in turn, did not pass on a lower price to farmers."
Meanwhile, the working group established after Monday night’s meeting has named itself Farmer Power.
Farmer Power representative Chris Gleeson from Crossley said the organisation was grassroots farmers and wasn’t aligned with any existing lobby group.
He said today’s protest was “the start of a long fight to achieve better and fairer farmgate prices for our milk”.
“We encourage all Australians to get behind our fight for better and fairer farmgate prices,” he said.
“We can’t continue to produce milk below the cost of production.
The organisation also set-up a website www.farmerpower.com.au