One of our recent posts generated a very strong discussion on foreign ownership of Dairy Processors in Australia. It is good to see that there are many sides to this topic and the passion that people are feeling about keeping local diary and Australian ownership.
I would like to share our own story, going from a Farmer supplier of our local cooperative, to a small hobby cheesery, to a stand-alone niche dairy processor.
20 years ago when we were suppliers to our local Co-op, most dairy processors were owned by the farmers themselves as Farmers Co-operatives.
I remember Malanda Milk being a profitable business, where the farmers received a decent return for their milk – though it never seemed like enough at the time – as well as dividends, but more importantly they had a say in the running of their business and their future.
After deregulation of the dairy industry in 2000 we chose to build our own little cheesery called Mungalli Creek Dairy, as milk payments were very low (below the cost of production) and farmers were leaving the industry in droves.
Our aspirations weren’t very big at the time and our original cheesery was just tacked on to our back shed. From this little space we hand crafted a small amount of our milk into yoghurt and speciality cheeses and were selling at local markets, a few stores and even selling to an organic distributor in Melbourne.
This small cheesery gave us a small amount of pocket money and gave us an outlet for our creativity. It also gave us the opportunity to get off farm and talk to our customers which was a nice change.
The rest of our milk went to our local Dairy Farmers co-op to be processed. We had been supplying this local Co-op since the sixties.
This happy synergy continued for a year or two until we received a letter to say that we could no longer supply both the local Co-op and ourselves with milk. They were going to stop dual supply i.e. a farmer could no longer sell milk to two processors. We’d never really thought of our little cheesery as being a milk processor – in my eyes it was a time consuming, money hungry hobby!
Suddenly we were confronted with the choice of shutting our little cheesery and supplying solely to Dairy Farmers or taking a huge leap of faith and going out on our own.
We decided to take the risk, to go out on our own, and turn our hobby into a stand-alone business. It was really terrifying as the Co-op had always purchased our milk, looked after the sales, distribution, marketing as well as compliance and now we had to do it ourselves!