Country Valley Dairy in Picton needs your help

Country Valley Dairy in Picton needs your help

Country Valley in Picton is suffering through a bad drought. This dairy farm with its own dairy makes and distributes Country Valley milk, yoghurt and cream – and is the last remaining dairy farm in the Sydney basin.  The drought is forcing John to buy hay throughout winter, which will cost him $1350 per cow.  He needs help: sponsor a cow, and bring your family on a farm visit to Picton, just 2 hours south of Sydney. Read his story below and contact him via Facebook (@CountryValleyMilk) or phone 02 4677 2223 to make a donation, big or small…read on below photo.

Country Valley farmer needs your help

John Fairley is a 5th generation dairy farmer in Picton.  The farm was established nearly 150 years ago and is now one of the last remaining dairies in the Sydney basin.  “With the urban sprawl getting ever closer, the harder it becomes to keep places like Picton rural. However, farming is more than a job, it is a way of life and it effects the lives of more than just the families who farm. To us it is not just about dollars and cents but about our heritage and the way we want to see our valley stay as farm land”, says John.

After deregulation of the milk industry in 2000, farmers like John were paid 26c per litre by the milk processors.  Which much of NSW in drought, John decided to become ‘Master of his own Fate’: he built his own dairy and started selling milk and yoghurt under the Country Valley brand into the Sydney and Canberra markets. It didn’t take long before he started buying milk from nearby farmers, paying them 20% more than what they got from the processors.

Country Valley went on to win prizes at the Royal Easter Show, and Pepe Saya uses Country Valley cream and milk to make his premium cultured butter.

For a few years, Harvest Hub sold Country Valley products.  Our members loved the creamy taste of the fresh milk and the thick yoghurt (without gum) – until the NSW Food Authority tightened the compliance requirements for storing and transporting dairy products which made it prohibitively expensive for small distributors like us.

However, times are lean on the farm right now.  Picton, and the wider Wollondilly shire, are in drought. Says John: “The time has come to swallow my pride and ask for help. The realisation that we will be fully feeding cows, all winter, has arrived. Even if it rains next week and we get crops in, it will get cold and we will still have no feed. My 83-yr. old Dad said he has never seen it worse than this.

“One of our options we put on the table to get through the drought was to shut the dairy down. I just can’t do it.

“We have developed the herd over time, milking daughter after daughter. We all grew up helping our Dad’s and Grandfathers on weekends and school holidays. The dairy is a part of who we are. ‘It takes a tribe to raise a child’ resonates with me.

“I want my grandkids to help my son and maybe my daughter in the future.

“I am asking our supporters of Country Valley to adopt a cow or a calf, to help my family get through to Spring. Any amount, with enough people, will help. You will receive a photo of your cow which you can name if you like. Then we are offering a visit to the farm on a roster basis over time. You can introduce yourself, to the cow that is, and me as well of course. You can milk a cow which might not necessarily be yours, depending on the timing. We finish the day by helping to feed the calves and choose a sample bag to take home.

“I have estimated that it will cost $1350 per cow to feed her until the end of September. And I have 130 cows to feed! This is by no means a minimum amount for adoption. I’m just trying to let you know the scale of my problem.

“Anyone kind enough to help out please email me at with your details and we can register you in the Cow Diary. Or call 02 4677 2223 and ask for Sally or Tom in business hours. Any help will be greatly appreciated”.

A Voluntary Code of Practice for Supermarkets?

You might have read or heard about The Australian Food and Grocery Council A Voluntary Code of Practice for Supermarkets. So why the kerfuffle?

Well, it was instigated due to investigations by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the manipulative power of supermarkets and have stated that if proves ineffective then they will push for mandatory regulation.

“A Voluntary Code of Practice for Supermarkets? The Code seeks to regulate supply terms and practices between major retailers and grocery suppliers. The Code is intended to lead to greater transparency and certainty for grocery suppliers in relation to supply terms and to provide an improved dispute resolution process to resolve disputes.”

Is the term ‘voluntary code of practice’ as oxymoronic as baggy tights, post-Apocalyptic, or Microsoft English?

The short answer is: self-regulation has a spotted history and is dependent on many things including workplace culture.  Just think of media ethics and self-regulation in radio.  There are a number of fiasco’s that come to mind including Karl Sandilands’ gaffs, or about John Laws coming clean about what sponsorship means for his public pronouncements.

At the moment consumers and suppliers are being dictated to by the duopoly that is Coles and Woolworths.  At least half the fresh food is Australia is supplied by these supermarkets and they’ve have 80% of the grocery market.

For the consumer this means we pay higher prices than the UK for example where four large supermarkets have between them 65% of the grocery market.

For suppliers we hope some things might improve. To date the milk wars have damaged our dairy industry.

At the Country Valley Dairy

At the Country Valley Dairy

The most successful dairy farmers are those who supply  a niche market and are able to process their own milk.  Harvest Hub’s Country Valley is an example of this.

Strange though as there is already a Produce and Grocery Industry Code of Conduct and both supermarkets are on the committee but no change forthcoming on this committee. Why another code? Is it a PR stunt?

As Matt Levey posted on Choice site “Hands up if you want cheap milk? Actually, let’s try rephrasing that – hands up if you want to rip off farmers?”

On a large scale the duopoly supermarkets have been able to issue ultimatums to suppliers and growers.  ABC news reported Simplot, the vegetable processing company, for example, has been put on notice by the supermarkets to match significantly reduced prices of China and New Zealand.

In more recent reporting Simplot is all in favor of a fairer system that might arise out of a voluntary code of practice. The Supermarkets can choose to or not to do anything with the code.

Like Nick Xenophon, the independent senator  the code is a good move but we’re worried, as many consumers, growers and suppliers are that it lacks bite.  There are no financial penalties for breaching the code.

The supermarket will voluntarily say that they will not change contracts midstream. How can you do that anyway? Why do they need a voluntary code of practice for that when we would have thought that it shouldn’t be happening anyway? And …not retrospectively change terms of the contract?

Were you also aware that the suppliers were charged for anything stolen from the shelves? An archaic presumption?

Simply removing some outrageous practices, we believe, does not make a Voluntary Code of practice reasonable.

Many believe the hype of what they see and hear on this Code of Practice but don’t question it? Or don’t fully understand the depth of the meaning of the Voluntary Code. The real issue and what is worrying is that it further reduces diversity and that is bad news. Suppliers are being turned into Home Brand suppliers and packers, losing their own branding and so it further seems to be replicating the Wall Mart effect.