As a child I’d put out the glass empties at night for the milkman. The next morning, full bottles would miraculously appear. We scratched the foil tops open for the cream. Such a treat! I hadn’t given much thought to milk since then; it was always just there.
Until Coles reduced the price of home brand milk to $1 per litre. I knew it’d impact the entire milk supply chain. Spurred on, I searched for milk where farmers could attain a fair price. I discovered farmhouse brands. And rediscovered milk.
Unbeknownst to me—and perhaps most of us—the dairy industry had undergone massive changes. Our first cows arrived on the First Fleet. The household cow supplied the family with milk and butter, with women performing the dairying tasks.
During the 1840s, the dairy industry was born. We had a wide variety of breeds including Alderneys, Longhorn Durhams, Shorthorn Durhams, Red Lincolns, Red Ayrshires and Jerseys. As transport and technology improved, farmers increased their productivity. Dairy farmers formed cooperatives to transport, process and market the milk.
Until the 1970s, the industry was comprised of large numbers of small farms, milking under 70 cows. The government regulated the market, controlling price and food quality.
Deregulation occurred in 2000 and the number of farms markedly declined. “Get big or get out” was the familiar cry.
Now, the average herd size is 258 cows. Yet there is a trend emerging for large operations of 1000; this is likely to continue as farmers seek economies of scale. With their high milk yield, Holstein Friesians are now the dominant breed.
Raw milk is processed to produce drinking milk and manufactured products. In Australia, this manufacturing market is comprised of a mixture of farmer-owned cooperatives, public, private and multinational companies. Yet manufacturing too underwent rationalization, with mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances.
Three multinational corporations now dominate: Lion 37.5% (Kirin, Japan), Parmalat 16.5% (Lactalis, France) and Fonterra 14.9% (Co-operative, New Zealand). They’re responsible for the plethora of brands on supermarket shelves, mountains of sugar and empty health claims.
Choice is an illusion.
97% of drinking milk is consumed domestically. Supermarkets command over half of this due to the growth of their home brand sales. Yet Coles claimed their unsustainable milk prices would not affect dairy farm gate price. They even published a video, ‘Our Coles Brand Milk Story’ on social media in their defense. They said the farm gate milk price increased. In fact, it went down. While the cost of producing continues to escalate.
Dairy farmers pay the price for cheap milk unevenly. It hits hardest in states reliant upon domestic milk sales, like New South Wales and Queensland. Many dairies simply closed, ending the generational succession of farmers, killing jobs and weakening local communities.
The personal toll paid is unimaginable.
And yet $1 per litre milk continues. It has been claimed that processors bid for this low-price contract in order to attain shrinking shelf-space for their other brands.
That’s what happens when you have a duopoly.
Anyway, back to my milk.
Some dairy farmers were spurred on by deregulation or the milk war to bottle and sell their own milk. Instead of get big or get out, they heard “innovate to survive.” It’s a huge gamble; they were skilled in farming, but could they tackle manufacturing, marketing and customer service?
I’m thrilled to say, they excel.
They don’t tamper with the raw product during processing, allowing the milk to shine. It can remain unhomogenized or pasteurised at lower temperatures. Unlike consistently mediocre milk in supermarkets—milk from these brands taste different—there’s fullness in flavour and cream.
Once you taste the difference, there’s no going back.
Furthermore you know where the milk comes from, who processed it and from which breeds. You can choose to support those who take extra care of bobby calves, farm biologically or bottle in returnable glass. When you support small dairies, you not only support their farms but their community. Not shareholders of multinational corporations.
Buying this milk from independents, you can stop supporting the duopoly.
It’s an absolute joy to drink and to be able to choose who and what I want to support.
Today, I shake the bottle to disperse the cream.
I cherish milk.
I’m sharing my milk directory so you too, can enjoy this pleasure with me.
Click for the milk directory
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 hazelisles