RETIRING WAFarmers dairy council president Michael Partridge's contribution on behalf of the local dairy industry has been praised by Federal Forrest MP Nola Marino.
Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, a Harvey dairy farmer and a member of the dairy council, Ms Marino told the recent WAFarmers dairy council annual general meeting Mr Partridge had been "extraordinary" and had "done a fantastic job".
She pointed out he was following in his father David's footsteps with eight years representing WAFarmers on the national council of industry advocacy body Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) and four years as vice president followed by four more years as president of the WAFarmers' dairy council.
Ms Marino reminded the meeting Mr Partridge, who runs White Rocks dairy and veal enterprises at Benger with wife Leanne and his parents, took over as dairy council president at what she described as "probably one of the worst times we've been through".
Brownes Dairy had told five of its best fresh milk suppliers - including Ms Marino's neighbour and fifth-generation dairy farmer Graham Manning - it would no longer take their milk.
Mr Manning, who regularly won annual quality awards for the milk he produced, was ultimately forced out of the industry because none of the three major milk processors in WA wanted his milk.
The breakdown of relationships between Brownes and dairy farmers highlighted the vulnerable position WA dairy farmers were in, but a string of meetings between dairy farmers and a succession of agriculture ministers under the previous State government was unable to resolve the situation.
"I know the amount of hours we spent with Graeme Manning and others at the worst time," Ms Marino said.
"Graham and his wife, family and workers were really distraught and devastated and you Michael had to carry much of that burden.
"You were in their dairy when their last cow was milked into the vat and you stood with those people when they were at their most challenging time.
"I know what that did to you, but I also know the comfort that brought to those people when they needed it most so, from all of us, thank you for that."
Mr Partridge said he was standing down as WAFarmers' representative on the ADF national council and as WAFarmers dairy council president, although he intended to remain on the dairy council.
He will be replaced on the ADF national council and as WAFarmers dairy council president by Forest Grove dairy farmer and his vice president for the past four years, Ian Noakes.
No vice president was elected at the annual meeting because no nominations for the position were received.
Looking back on his time as dairy council president and ADF representative, Mr Partridge nominated the end for $1-a-litre milk last year, after eight years devaluing the product dairy farmers produced, as the dairy industry's "greatest achievement" during his time.
"The retailers chose to deliver the first 10 cents back to farmers through a voluntary levy," Mr Partridge said.
"It is disappointing that Coles is now moving away from the voluntary levy and has gone to a direct supply model.
'This caused uncertainty during the (recent supply) contract negotiation period."
Mr Partridge said he had enjoyed working with dairy farmers all over Australia on the ADF and appreciated their hard work and perseverance.
"I am not only an advocate for dairy farmers, but also for advocacy itself," he said.
"I hope all farmers can see the benefit and increasing requirement for well-funded advocacy.
"I also hope with the proposed national dairy restructure that we can hold onto what is working well, but with equitable funding from all dairy farmers going into advocacy via some redistribution of existing levies."
Mr Noakes, who farms with sons Brad and Steve, milking a mixed herd of up to 600 cows and since 2014 supplying Woolworths for its Farmers Own brand milk, indicated the fight to improve dairy farm profitability will continue.
"It's been a pretty tough industry for the past few years and that's obvious from the reaction we've got at our recent dairy council regional roundups meetings - people are hurting," Mr Noakes said.
"The thing that we're concerned about as a dairy council is there's no mechanism for us as dairy farmers to get the money out of the marketplace anymore.
"Also, the thing that worries me is that because there's no margin, how do we encourage young people into the industry - a dairy farm is now a big investment."
Mr Noakes said that at meetings earlier this year with Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan to discuss the State's shrinking dairy industry and the lack of profitability flowing back through the supply chain, she had required certain commitments from dairy farmers.
"We fulfilled the commitment she put on us so she has an obligation to see it through and that's the line I will be taking," Mr Noakes said.
"It became very obvious on our regional roundup that the industry wants change.
"Michael has done a fantastic job.
"I'm happy to do it for a while, but realistically we need some younger people in the industry to step up."
Ms Marino urged dairy farmers at the dairy council annual meeting to make submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry into the supply chains for perishable agricultural products which is due to conclude next month.
Under the terms of the inquiry announced in August, the ACCC will focus on "power imbalance" in relationships between supermarkets and those who produce perishable agricultural products like milk, Ms Marino said.
Importantly, for the first time, the ACCC had agreed to allow people providing evidence to the inquiry to nominate to have their identity remain confidential, she said.
"One of the things I've come up against is the reluctance sometimes of people to give evidence because the nature of the evidence identifies their business or who they are and they can't afford to be identified because that could have consequences for them further up the supply chain," Ms Marino said.
"This time however, there is a confidential way of giving evidence and that is important."