Boom time for most but not farmers

By Riverine Herald

A NEW report has revealed the northern Victoria’s manufacturing sector is booming, but concerns have been raised that farmers are not reaping the rewards.

Research released by the Australian Food and Grocery Council in Stanhope on Thursday has revealed the region has become a food and grocery manufacturing powerhouse, generating $12 billion in outputs each year and employing 21,500 Victorians.

With almost one in 10 workers employed in the sector, it is the largest industry across the four federal Victorian electorates of Murray, Indi, Bendigo and the Mallee.

While Australian Food and Grocery Council chief executive officer Tanya Barden championed the news as a wonderful result for the region, Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum reminded everyone of the trying times currently being experienced by our producers.

‘‘It’s a bit of a paradox really. What we have is a dairy industry where effectively the average dairy farmer is doing it relatively tough and struggling to have a positive outlook for the future,’’ Mr Drum said.

He said while manufacturers had seen confidence and positivity in the industry and were continuing to invest, more needed to be done to improve sentiment at the farm gate.

‘‘We have to fix up this unique situation where there’s poor confidence at the lower level, the farmer level, where they are working their backsides off . . . to produce milk for the nation and internationally yet struggling to make that successful, struggling to make that economically viable,’’ he said.

Fonterra’s Stanhope cheese plant is currently undergoing its second expansion in two years, increasing the demand for milk.

The $125 million expansion of the Midland Hwy facility is set to see its capacity almost double, with more than 80,000 tonnes of cheese to be produced by the plant each year.

With northern Victoria’s current population expected to grow by 11 per cent during the next 15 years, Ms Barden said the predicted influx of a further 64,000 residents indicated future economic prospects would remain strong.