In the current climate of plummeting milk prices and corporate price maximisation, it’s a brave venture that challenges the dairy industry’s mantra of the good outcomes of deregulation with a vision of local farmers working co-operatively to produce and market their own high-quality product.
As forward milk prices hit less than $5 per kilogram of milk solids (prices are measured by the weight of milk powder, as most is exported) paid by processor Murray Goulburn, and the cuts were matched by the other main processors, dairy farmers across Victoria faced effective budget blowouts in the face of a savage market downturn and an even more relentless and damaging supermarket price war.
Rachel and Troy Peterken manage 250 head of cattle at their Dunnstown Inglenook Dairy. After five years their award-winning business, which they built both physically and figuratively from the ground up, has captured a strong foothold in the wider area, selling high-quality milk and cream. They are now looking to branch out into yoghurt.
The Peterkens are adamant there’s a future for the dairy industry, if consumers are willing to pay a fair price for produce and farmers adopt a more lateral-minded approach to the way the industry operates.
“We’re passionate about the dairy industry, having grown up in it,” says Rachel. “And the need for people to have good quality milk like we’d enjoyed as children.”
They see their future role as supporting local milk producers by offering a niche dairy, rather than relying on the massive processors who dictate conditions and effectively act as banks to farmers as well, by offering contract loans when prices are depressed.
“Our goal is to grow the business and raise the price we get paid, and support other dairies,” says Troy.
Rachel Peterken agrees.
“If we could take a portion of the district’s production and pay a better price for it… if we could get across to the consumer: don’t buy dollar milk. Every time you buy dollar milk it’s an insult to a dairy farmer. Farmers are price takers, not makers. Consumers need to value the food we produce.”