NERRENA dairy farmer Janine Clark apologised to the Melbourne media pack last Friday for becoming emotional when she spoke about the impact on farming families of the “shock” announcement by milk processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra little more than three week ago.
She said a lot of people were left reeling by the decision, not only to savage prices but also to announce a claw back of payments already made.
And with tears welling up in her eyes, she said she feared for the emotional wellbeing of vulnerable people in the local community.
She needn’t have worried.
Ms Clark and her husband Terry received a warm round of applause after they fronted the assembled media; from Nine, Seven, the ABC and Win television, plus radio and local newspapers after the departure of the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who had visited their farm last Friday morning.
He was there to announce the first instalment in a support package for farmers, and conspicuous among the measures was $940,000 for extra counselling and additional funding for Lifeline “so that farmers and their families can get the information, advice and support they need”.
There was also $345,000 in grants for affected communities so that they can “continue to look out for each other and come together to talk about the issues that matter to them”.
There’s also $150,000 to give 750 people mental health and first aid training improving the dissemination of mental health information and contact points.
There’s also $100,000 to extend the ‘Look Over the Farm Gate’ program, administered locally by GippsDairy.
Q&A with Terry and Janine
Here’s how Terry and Janine responded to the city media pack:
Q1. What do you think about the Premier’s announcements today?
A1. [Terry] As we spoke about inside (during a kitchen table chat with the Premier) there are a lot of farmers doing it tough at the moment. So anything they can do to help make sure that no one falls through the cracks in the next few weeks and months will be good.
Q2. What was your response to the decision by the milk companies to take back some of the money they had already paid?
A2. [Terry] At the start it was anger, then reality kicks in and you start to work through your plans. We decided not to make any kneejerk reactions and to concentrate on the things we can control.
Q3. Have you been able to calculate what your losses will be?
A3. [Terry] We don’t know that yet. We’ll make a loss of $12,000 to $14,000 a month for the first two months then we don’t know until the opening prices come in.
Q4. How are you coping?
A4. [Terry] The last season we had put everyone behind the 8-ball even before they came out with the announcement. If we hadn’t had that, we’d have been in a better position to cut our costs and wait for the good times.
Q5. Have you thought about giving up?
A5. [Terry] Not really but there will be a lot of older farmers who will take the opportunity to exit the industry. The tragic thing is that some of the talented younger farmers will also go too, and like the young guy down at Dumbalk in the paper last week, we can’t afford to lose them with such an aging industry profile.
Q6. Is it the end of the industry?
A6. [Terry] It’s probably the most difficult time I have seen in my time in the industry. With other price dips we have had some warning but this came out of the blue.
Q7. Shouldn’t you have seen it coming with the world prices going down?
A7. [Terry] Yes possibly but we’re flat out doing what we are doing. We rely on the factory experts to keep us informed with what’s happening globally.
Q8. A lot of what the Premier announced today is about dealing with emotional stress. Have you seen any mental health issues as a result?
A8. [Terry] It’s certainly going to have an effect but, at the risk of getting gender specific here, I’m concerned that a lot of it is going to fall on to the wives and mothers. They are the ones that are probably going to have to look at the bills at the end of the month and realise there isn’t much there to pay them. I hope there’s some support for them because they’ve got to go on looking after the kids and all of the rest of the things they do. You’ll have to ask Janine.
Q9. What about the money for mental health support?
A9. [Terry] Every little bit helps.
Q10. What about your stress levels, Janine?
A10. [Janine] I’m pretty good at the moment but it has its days. There are others, though, in a more difficult situation than us that I feel worried about. As individuals and a community we need to be reaching out to them and caring for each other. We have to soldier on and do the best we can but being aware of our emotional health is very important. It can be quite an isolated existence in the dairy industry. We’ve got to reach out to each other and make sure everyone is OK. It’s important to try to stay positive but we have had a really big shock. You could see that at the meeting (with Murray Goulburn). Everyone had a lot of questions but they didn’t get too many answers. They still haven’t had those answers.
Q11. How did you feel when they broke the news?
A11. [Janine] It took time to register. You had to try and get your head around it. I thought: “Can they even do that? Can they take back the money they have already paid us?” My mental health is pretty good. It’s just the way of the world. This is a good day but I have a few tell-tale signs and if I had a problem I would go and get something done. But I do worry about the young families, with kids. People who haven’t been in the industry long; what can they do?
Q12. Can people help by buying local products?
A12. [Janine] Yes, and we produce some great products here. You know the labels. It’s world class and it’s great to see it on the shelves and also on shelves overseas.
Q13. Are you seeking anything more?
A13. [Janine] We need more answers from Murray Goulburn. People at the moment are still in shock. People at the meeting couldn’t stop shaking their heads. We need simple answers to simple questions but we’re not getting that. We’re getting complicated answers to simple questions or no response at all. We need to be getting more information from Murray Goulburn. [Terry] Our family has supplied Murray Goulburn for four generations but, as we have seen in the past few weeks, loyalty means nothing. We’ve lost our loyalty. We had offers to go to other companies over the years but we’ve stuck with them, for what? Our loyalty has been shattered in the last few weeks.