Slivers of hope for Qld dairyEliza Rogers, Friday November 1, 2013 - 16:02 EDT
It's has been a tough decade for Queensland's dairy farmers - deregulation, the price war, floods and drought have seen hundreds leave the industry.
So, the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation's decision to take this year's state conference to the 500 farmers left in the industry has been a welcome reprieve.
QDO president Brian Tessman says there is a lot on the agenda - first, an increase in the farm gate price for milk.
"Barnaby Joyce, before the election, came out strong in favour of a mandatory code of conduct to sort out the domestic industry, but we want to meet with him and see what actions he's going to take."
Biggenden dairy farmer Robbie Radel and his young family have had a tough year.
They had to tip out thousands of litres of milk following the floods early in the year, and just this week watched another fellow farmer walk out of the industry.
Mr Radel said it was fantastic to have the QDO visit the small town.
"We're all feeling the pinch financially and getting away is a difficult thing so for them to come out to us makes a huge difference," he said.
"In Biggenden, we are starting to get the feeling that as more people leave the industry, we may not have a market to supply in that we won't be able to be picked up; we'll be told that it's not viable."
But there is a ray of hope for some farmers.
New South Wales dairy cooperative Norco has signed up 30 farmers from Queensland to help supply the Coles contract it won off Lion.
It's also exporting full cream milk to China.
Elke Watson from the Sunshine Coast hinterland is one of those farmers who's jumped ship to give herself a fighting chance.
"It's been wonderful working with a cooperative - (we were) unhappy with where we have been and we were really looking for new options, there really were not enough options in Queensland."
QDO president Brian Tessman says Norco's move into Queensland is positive but he wants more government support to reinvigorate the Queensland dairy and its ability to export.
"We certainly would like to gain access to some of those export markets... we've heard during the week of the high prices that milk is achieving in China."
He said even milk being sold for domestic consumption in Queensland could be exported.
But sadly, there are some casualties in the dairy game.
After 40 years dairying, Robyn MacDonald from Biggenden did her final milking on Wednesday morning, leaving only about seven dairy farmers in the small town.
She said the tipping point was when the feed bill outweighed the dairy returns.
"Our dairy cheque was $21,000 for the month, our meal bill was $21,700," she said.
"The last two years have been very poor, we'd had a few personal problems with losing a daughter and then the floods; we were just scratching."
She said she and her husband, both 65, now need to find other jobs to cover the mortgage.
And poor dairy cattle prices mean most of the family's 300 head will go to the meatworks.
© ABC 2013
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