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
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
Part 3: Overcoming
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