Dairy farmers suffered heavily during the floods, but Parmalat is refusing to reimburse them for any dumped milk.
Dairy farmers suffered heavily during the floods, but Parmalat is refusing to reimburse them for any dumped milk. Jenna Cairney

Milk co refuses to help farmers

MILK giant Parmalat has refused to reconsider its decision not to reimburse suppliers for milk dumped during the floods, saying “the floods affected more people than just farmers”.

Angry local dairy farmers contacted the Daily News to express their dismay with the move, which was made despite pledging to donate 100 per cent of Pauls’ profits for February to flood relief efforts.

Parmalat Commercial Development general manager Vince Houlihan said it had been their policy for more than 20 years that dairy farmers should have adequate insurance to cover events caused by fire and flood.

“We’re not an insurance company, we’re a processing company,” Mr Houlihan said.

“When we couldn’t reach the farms due to floodwaters we expected them to dump the milk and claim it under their business insurance.”

In cases where the milk was able to be collected but not stored by the company, Mr Houlihan said Parmalat would pay the farmer.

But Australian Dairy Farmers president Wes Judd said insurance was often not an option for farmers and said the big companies knew that before they implemented their policies.

“It doesn’t matter how high a premium farmers pay, most insurance companies won’t cover you for milk dumped in a flood,” Mr Judd said.

He said although Parmalat was unable to collect the milk from the farmers it would be in the company’s best interest to pay their suppliers for their work.

“I understand on one hand they don’t have the product, but on the other hand to look after the ones who supply you day in, day out would have been the best PR money they could spend.

“This has been a major event and a similar extremity to the drought.”

One Southern Downs farmer, who declined to be identified, estimated losses of 5000 litres of milk during the floods and described the refusal to pay as “totally disgusting”.

He said it was just another blow for farmers who were already doing it tough.

The farmer is outraged the company has refused to pay him, even for one day when the roads were open but the company had no place to store the milk.

“It just goes to show what the big companies think of the farmers and it proves a big point they don’t want us,” the farmer said.

The farmer said he was worried this would further impact the declining number of young people willing to take on the responsibilities of a dairy farmer.

He said he feared for the future of dairy farming in Australia and was worried it is “one big, dying industry”.

“I know of a few farmers who have said they’re retiring and told their kids to go get a job as a diesel mechanic or computer whiz,” he said.

“The time of a farmer is worth nothing.”

Meanwhile, a former dairy farmer who “got sick of working for nothing” told the Daily News the price of milk on supermarket shelves regardless of specials was “far from being represented properly”.

“It’s scandalous how multi-national companies underpay farmers – they work it out by the cost of feeding a milking cow per day and only taking those figures,” the local, who did not wish to be named, said.

“Say you’re milking 100 cows they take those figures – they’re paying farmers 40c/L and claiming they’re paying enough to make it viable, but they’re not.”

He said the real cost of milk production is double what ends up in farmers’ pockets.

“The reality is dairy farmers are surviving by having off-farm employment or hay bale businesses or they’ve got themselves so far in debt they just keep going,” he said.

“The general public need to wake up and boycott these big milk companies or they’ll be drinking long-life milk from China.”

Asked whether he’s tried long-life milk, the local almost shuddered.

“I’ve tried it twice and have been sick off it both times. That’s the way we’re going with our exports, though,” he said.

The former dairy farmer said “thousands and thousands” of dairy heifers were exported internationally each year.

“Dairy Australia does not represent the farmer, they represent or side with the multi-nationals and the farmers are being screwed out of existence,” he said.

“The way the present structure of the industry is, farmers will never make a dollar for as long as they live.

“Some are living in the dream it’ll get better but it will never get better if the multi-national companies are around – we will never see the light at the end of the tunnel until the legislation changes.”

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