Newly initiated chairperson Stuart Crosthwaite, who is a fifth-generation farmer milking 400 cows at Kergunyah South, said he and three other Kiewa Valley farming families formed the co-op to create a more positive outlook within the local industry, but that it isn’t a “knee-jerk reaction” to the issues that have plagued Murray Goulburn.
“We’ve only ever had one processor to choose from, so when it’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad, it’s bad, so if we can provide the community with another option, then we’ve done our job,” Mr Crosthwaite said.
He said it is a co-op with a bit of a “twist”.
“We’re looking to sell milk at a premium, as we want to showcase the people, the environment, and the way we look after our animals,” he said.
“We’re good farmers who produce good milk, but usually it’s all put together, and we don’t ever get recognised with any premiums.”
He said the co-op planned to start small.
“We will be looking to grow by taking on new members, but we need time to organise the business, create partnerships and to build a solid foundation,” he said.
“We are currently looking to establish partnerships with milk processors who understand our vision and who are prepared to work alongside us in making this happen.
“Once this is consolidated, we will be exploring options for growth and expanding our footprint in the region.”
He said at this point they would also allow new members to join.
“We’re garnering interest at this point, and hopefully in a month’s time, things will be finalised and we’ll be able to take on new members,” he said.
He said he hopes he can lead from example and encourage other farming communities to start up their own co-ops.
“We see a really good opportunity here, we’ve got our feet firmly on the ground, and we’re really keen to revolve everything around our family values,” he said.
The co-op is being supported by the Australian Government’s $13.8 million Farm Co-Operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program, also known as Farming Together, which has appointed dairy consultant Patten Bridge to assist the group.
Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said the co-op would carry the dairying legacy into the future.
“These are committed farmers dedicated to their industry and their community and it has been a privilege to help them prepare for sector change,” Ms Gordon said.
“The Farming Together program aims to help farmers claim better margins and more say in their supply chain, as well as building a stronger stake in the long-term sustainability of their enterprises.”