When he was asked to sign a contract for returns below his cost of production, Tamrookum dairy farmer Greg Dennis knew something had to give.
Rather than complain about the situation he was faced with Greg and his family put their money where their mouth is and invested $1-million in their own on-farm milk processing facility.
In mid 2013 they released the first bottles of their Scenic Rim 4Real Milk and now it’s sold in about 140 supermarkets, fruit shops, cafes and other retail outlets around south-east Queensland.
It’s not the first time his family has taken drastic action due to poor prices. Thirteen years ago, after the industry was deregulated and prices dropped from 50c/litre to 34c/litre and the family shut the dairy, sold the herd and sought new jobs.
“In the 1990s we had Queensland’s second-largest milking herd with 360 cows and we tried to tough it out but our family was losing money on a daily basis and there’s a limit to how long you can do that if you haven’t got backing,” says Greg.
They stayed out of the industry for five years but eventually the call of the cows was too strong and when the price bounced back up to 50c/litre Greg convinced his family to make a return.
“We were always fairly progressive but we were never pioneers,” he says.
“Towards the end of the drought there was a critical shortage of milk and the price went to 50c/litre. I made a snap decision and convinced the rest of my family to go along with it.”
Returning to dairying wasn’t easy, or cheap. Greg had a long interest in bloodlines and travelled from Atherton to the Hunter Valley to put together his herd of 200 purebred Holstein cows.
They pulled together a cheap, second-hand milking line, which was later replaced by the four Dutch milking robots, which now take pride of place on the farm.
The robots – which automatically milk the cows using laser-guided suction caps – allow the cows to be milked when it suits them and microchips in the cows enable records to be kept about how much milk each cow produces vs how much feed has been consumed.
The technology has been around in Europe for 20 years but was relatively new to Australia when Greg introduced it.
The decision has paid dividends and Greg hopes their move into their own brand of milk will also reap rewards.
“The reality was we couldn’t sustain life on this farm very long for a return below the cost of production, we couldn’t carry it,” he says.