At a very young age, Jim Platell made the decision to continue the family tradition of dairy farming. With his father’s blessing, they purchased Eurara, a 700-acre farm in picturesque Tabooba, a short drive south of Beaudesert. Jim and his sister, Bob, who returned to the country to help Jim on the farm, milk a herd of 320 cows and sell the milk to Parmalat, who produce Pauls milk. Their father, Mark Platell — a fourth-generation dairy farmer, who has been dairying for over fifty years — has taught his children well and, while he is there to guide them, he believes they should make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. Like many Queensland dairy farmers, Jim and Bob urge people to buy branded milk to help sustain the local dairy-farming industry. While they love what they do, they believe dollar-milk has to go.
JIM AND BOB PLATELL
You decided to walk in the footsteps of your father and continue dairy farming, is that right?
BOB: It was Jim’s idea to begin with. I was away. I did university and then I was travelling. It was Jim’s call.
JIM: I was in Year 12 and decided, then, that I wanted to do it. Dad said, ‘Do you want to be a farmer and do dairy, or don’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes’, so we bought up this farm. That was in 2001.
How do you find the dairy industry at the moment?
JIM: It is a bit backward now, but hopefully it will turn around soon.
BOB: At the moment, we plod along. You do it because you love it, more than for any other reason at the moment. If you did it only for money-making reasons, you wouldn’t be here.
What do you love about it?
BOB: We love the lifestyle. We both have small families and we’re able to bring them along to work. There’s no other job I’ve been able to take that can cater for that. I can have a family, yet still be on the farm, doing what I do. The kids just plod along behind me, and we do whatever we can. That’s what I like about it. I am able to raise my kids the way I was raised: they’re on the farm and enjoying life, knowing what it is all about and where their food comes from.
JIM: We have the freedom to do what we want, and be our own boss. The decisions are ours to make and we don’t have to be told what to do.
What’s your plan for the future of the farm?
BOB: We could get more cows, but the way we work here, we’d have to also get bigger infrastructure — bigger feed sheds and so on. You have to weigh that up. There are always big dreams, but at the end of the day it is about what we can afford and how much debt Jim and I want to get into to leave to the next generation, and if they want to continue. It is the same choice Dad offered us.
Does your father still work on the farm?
JIM: Yes. He has all of the younger stock at his place. We send them down there. We still have that property.
BOB: We drag him up for milking whenever we want a weekend off. He has his hand in it. Also, we have another grain farm, with which we’re in partnership, and he controls that at the moment. Without all of us, it wouldn’t work.
How long has the farm been in the family?
BOB: It goes back through our dad’s family. It started with our great-grandfather. He had a smaller farm and leased a lot of land, and we’ve gone from there to Dad buying the land surrounding him to make his farm what it is. Dad had big dreams, too; otherwise he wouldn’t have made it what it was until Jim made the decision … and I am glad Jim made that decision.
JIM: I didn’t know how to do anything else. I grew up dairying. We could all do it — from ten years old, we all knew how to do everything. It is pretty easy to do what you know, I suppose.
What did you study at university, Bob?
BOB: I did teaching. I left to travel, then I did retail, then I got jack of being in the city, really. I didn’t like sitting on a train for an hour, just to get off and walk with the cattle in there, so I decided to come home.
JIM: We had a hiccup of labour, so Bob said she’d take that position and she moved back home. It was good.
BOB: That was probably about eight years ago. We have a lot of family discussions, I suppose. There’s a lot of calling back and forth. ‘What do you think?’ of this or that. Jim probably makes a lot of the decisions, but he still has a yarn to Dad or myself first. He says, ‘This is what I am thinking. What do you think?’ We tell him what we think and he does what he wants.
JIM: Dad is still part of it but he says we have to make the decisions and learn from our mistakes.
BOB: Dad has said from now on — and he is in no way retired — but he has said if it is something we’re going to continue in our lives, we have to make those decisions. That’s what he had to do. He learnt from his mistakes and we have to learn from ours. Hopefully we’re tracking well. Dad guides us; he wouldn’t let us do anything completely stupid, I don’t think. Although, you never know; he might do. But he certainly guides us.
What do you most appreciate about living in the Scenic Rim region?
BOB: It is only about a forty-five minute drive to the coast from here, and, if we need to get parts for dairy and so on, we can nip into town. Jim broke a truck one day. We drove to Brisbane, got that part, drove back to the farm, fixed the truck and he was on his way again. We are not too far out that we can’t do that. Otherwise, it would be a two-day venture if we had to wait for a part to be posted out, but Jim was able to just get in the ute and go.
JIM: Just the rural lifestyle, as well. It would drive me mad living in town. It is good living out here.
What are your biggest challenges?
BOB: There’s no point going into the problems, but our dilemma at the moment is the price of milk.
JIM: You have to get rid of dollar-a-litre milk for it to change, but it is not leaving anytime soon. Most of the milk comes from down south where they can produce it a lot cheaper. It is what governs our price because, down there, they’re on what the world market is, which is always a lot lower than us. The price won’t go up because they can buy it more cheaply down there and truck it up here — cheaper than what they can pay us. That is the reason every Queensland farmer is trying to push for ‘buy local’: to let people know where the milk comes from. They won’t put it on bottles and they won’t advertise on milk cartons where their milk comes from. I don’t think Queensland people realise that a lot of their milk is Victorian and that it is three, four or five days old when it gets here. Our local milk is on the shelf in two days, but unbranded milk might be two-days old, then it has a two-day drive up here and then it is bottled. But people don’t realise that.
BOB: It doesn’t have to be from Beaudesert, but buy local Queensland milk. The more local it is, the fresher it will be. If people look at the use-by dates, I think it will show that the ones with the longer use-by dates are coming from here. It is fresher when it hits the shelves.
JIM: I think that’s why people like branded milk — because they know it is local and they know it is fresh.
BOB: The dollar-litre milk has to go. We can’t argue with the consumer. You walk into a shop and you always look for the best price, don’t you? We can’t argue with the everyday household that is buying nine litres of milk to feed their kids.
JIM: We had a forum, here, for the dairy industry, and they said the average person drinks one hundred litres of milk a year. That’s why they are trying to get the supermarkets to put the price up, just ten cents a litre. If the farmers get that ten cents, it has only cost the consumer ten dollars per person, and that would save Queensland dairy. But the supermarkets won’t do it.
BOB: They disagree that the household would spend that money, but we beg to differ because you can buy two cups of coffee for that. It is just getting awareness out there, I think. We are not pushing to be multi-millionaires; we’re pushing to make a living. A lot of people think, ‘Look at the farmers. Look at all of the land they’re sitting on.’ But it means nothing if you can’t produce off it. That’s what we like to tell our city friends that think we have the world at our feet. We probably do, if you look at it from their perspective, but making a living, as such, and especially two families off the one farm — that ten cents would mean the absolute world to us.