WAFARMERS has come under fire from its dairy section members following its decision to accept sponsorship from Coles for its 2014 annual conference.
Coles has been named as the title sponsor for the event, a move which some dairy farmers believe undermines the organisation’s ability to effectively lobby for increased farmgate prices.
Busselton farmer Greg Chapman said the sponsorship deal contradicts a motion put forth by the WAFarmers dairy section to boycott Coles and all other Wesfarmers subsidiaries as a result of what it alleged was “predatory pricing” in 2012.
At the time Mr Chapman called for WAFarmers and the wider farming community to boycott Coles supermarkets and all Wesfarmers subsidiaries, with particular emphasis on CSBP and WFI.
“It is disappointing when a decision is made by the WAFarmers general executive to support that motion, and here we are two years later with Coles as the major sponsor,” Mr Chapman said.
“Of course the decision jeopardises WAFarmers’ ability to lobby in an open and frank way.”
Mr Chapman said having Coles as the major sponsor would likely cost the organisation membership.
But WAFarmers president Dale Park said the lobby group had a long history of substantial engagement with Coles on a number of issues, of which Coles had been entirely welcoming.
“Coles is well aware of WAFarmers, and by extension our members’ stance on a number of issues, particularly relating to dairy,” Mr Park said.
“While we may not agree with some of Coles’ policies, that does not mean we cannot engage in discussion with them.
“WAFarmers needs, and intends to continue to work with Coles and other major supermarkets (and the entire supply chain) for the long-term sustainability and profitability of industry, and their sponsorship does not inhibit us from actively advocating for the interests of farmers.”
Mr Park said engaging Coles as conference sponsors did not affect WAFarmers’ ability to advocate on behalf of dairy, or any other, farmers in the future.
“This partnership should be looked upon positively, demonstrating the existence of a two-way, open dialogue,” he said.
Mr Chapman agreed there was a need for dialogue between WAFarmers and Coles, but said major sponsorship deals were a different issue.
“The Coles’ $1L milk campaign has effectively benchmarked the price of milk,” Mr Chapman said.
“The sustainable milk price report clearly demonstrates that farmers lost money in the last financial year.
“If they (Coles) are holding back the price of milk in excess of 5c/L, as demonstrated by Eastern States milk prices, and my view is that it could be more, then they are costing the WA dairy industry $17 million annually.”
In a written statement Coles said it was the third year Coles has been a sponsor of the WAFarmers conference.
“As in previous years, the sponsorship provides Coles with an opportunity to engage with farmers on issues of mutual interest and concern,” it said.