Richmond River Historical Society
District History  


Downturn at the Dairy (Part 5)

by Margaret Henderson

Defeat in Victory for the North

With more bulk milk being required bulk collection by tanker was begun in Lismore in 1969. In 1970 the Milk Board was replaced by the Dairy Industry Authority (DIA). This had been established under the Dairy Industry Act of June 1970. It was responsible for all aspects of the industry: registration of dairies, quality control, supervision and distribution of the product including sales, registration of milk vendors, and even artificial insemination to improve stock.

With the formation of the DIA bulk milk collection became compulsory. This was to be phased in by 1975 and new regulations to force farmers to upgrade their dairies, including refrigerated holding tanks, were introduced.

The DIA virtually closed the industry to new suppliers. An office was opened in Lismore soon after the Authority was established. This was seen as a good sign by local people and by 1972 it had a staff of 11. A new building (complete with "space-age décor") in Conway Street, Lismore was officially opened in 1975 with great pomp and ceremony. It is ironic, however, that by then its staff had been reduced to seven and the industry in the Richmond River District was in decline.

In 1972 the PPU and the dairying division of the APPU merged to form the Dairy Farmers Association (DFA). This had been formed principally to lobby and negotiate with the Dairy Industry Authority and the Australian Labor Party supported its aims.

It was not until 1976, however, that North Coast farmers were successful in obtaining a share of the metropolitan milk market. When Labor won at the state election in 1975 quotas were reallocated and Norco was given a permanent quota. This meant an all-year access to the Milk Zone.

The End of an Era

World War II had seen a surge in the demand for dairy products and overall farm incomes improved at that time. Australia's increased population through massive post-war migration had also been beneficial. However, the granting of a quota to Norco really saw the end of the dairy industry on the North Coast as originally established. It was the beginning of the end for the cream supplier. For those who could remain in the industry it was a great step forward, however. Wages and machinery costs had been increasing rapidly and many farmers had been relying on family members to keep the farms going. The hard work and constant hours (cows had to be milked twice a day and holidays were rare for the dairy farmer) meant that few young people wanted to stay in the industry. The average age of the dairy farmer on the north coast by the 1960s was approx. 55 years of age. Many of the farmers were much older.

For many the change came too late. Regulations were strict, and improvements were necessary as most dairies were below standard. Those who were not too old to make the change could not finance the improvements. Some farmers turned to beef production, some sold to neighbouring farmers, some sold to hobby farmers or speculators. The North Coast had become a popular tourist and retirement location!

The successful farmers, by expanding their holdings, increased their income. More mechanization could be used, expensive machines such as rotary milking machine units could be installed, electric fences and strip feeding could replace wasteful pasture grazing. The industry became more efficient but, perhaps, in so doing lost some of its character.

Today there are fewer dairy farms in the Lismore District. Many of the little towns and villages have disappeared unless they have become dormitory suburbs or tourist attractions. Many farms which used to run dairies have been turned into tropical fruit or macadamia nut plantations.

Norco continued to prosper, spread to other districts, and diversified its products. Instead of being simply a farmers' cooperative, it became a commercial giant and a major force in the economy of Lismore.

However, in recent years the dairying industry has been de-regulated. This has meant that "Big Business" has taken over. Dairy companies have had to fight for their share of the market, especially with huge supermarkets like Woolworths and Coles. Some companies have been taken over by international interests or have merged with other cooperatives. Norco has had to adapt to this new world.

Similarly, the dairy farmer has had to adapt. The small independent dairy farmer no longer exists. His management skills are now as important as his farming skills.

Part 1: The Pioneers; Land Boom; First Dairy; Early Problems
Part 2: Dairying Takes Off
Part 3: Overcoming Problems
Part 4: Marketing; The Milk Zone War

Minnie, Fuschia & Gem, property of Messrs Reid Bros, Bangalow. Won 1st Prize for Pen of Three Dairy Cows in Milk, at Mullumbimby Exhibition, Dec. 1908