THE Farmers' Forum at Esk last weekend drew a crowd of 348 to hear what the main political parties plan to do to help primary producers remain sustainable domestically and to ensure food security for Australia.
Chaired and organised by Gympie rural campaigners Graham Engeman and John Cochrane, the forum aimed to raise awareness of the plight of farmers and to begin to restore the balance of power from the supermarket duopoly.
The Somerset Civic Centre crowd was unanimous in its concern that the supermarkets were driving farmers to bankruptcy, Mr Engeman said yesterday.
"Farmers were welcomed by Mayor Graham Lehmann, and organiser John Cochrane outlined the facts behind the enormous financial crisis faced by rural producers and their communities.
"One of the key points made by Mr Cochrane was the unrestricted power in the market wielded by Coles and Woolworths to force down the price of commodities such as milk to below production costs.
"Many see this as unconscionable conduct which requires stronger competition laws."
Party policy and actions were outlined by Member for Blair Shayne Newmann, ALP; Shane Paulger, KAP Senate candidate, Sandra Bayley, AGP Senate candidate and Barnaby Joyce, LNP candidate for New Eng
land. Each spoke for about 15 minutes and then answered questions from the floor.
"The question all wanted answered was what each party would do to control the aggressive market behaviour by the big two supermarket operators," Mr Engeman said. "Competition laws were identified as too lax in allowing supermarkets to drive down supply prices.
"Many questions related to a mandatory code of practice with most of the audience calling a voluntary code a waste of time.
"The huge increase in farm costs were highlighted with income levels stagnant.
"The producers and suppliers have little alternative for product outlet given the unfair market advantage of the supermarkets and the lack of government action to restore some balance and control into the market place.
"Farmers sympathised with service station operators who are also suffering from supermarket fuel discounting, however, whereas the fuel companies are multinationals who control production and processing and sell through independent and company outlets, the farmers are Australian families who feed our nation clean, green product at the mercy of the processor and retail chain market control."
The forum passed a unanimous resolution that: "We commit to work together to reduce supermarket power and to make the market fairer, more balanced, more transparent and to ensure farmers get sustainable returns".
"It was a sombre meeting where the pain suffered by today's farming families was very evident on the faces of the audience," Mr Engeman said.
Mr Cochrane said the forum had helped those politicians who attended understand the farmers' plight but that he would only be satisfied when he saw action.
"They (politicians) say they can't do anything about it," he said. "Well who is running this country?"
Queensland was losing 80 dairy farms a year, and Mr Cochrane has another seven sales already booked for south-east Queensland.
"Since 2000 we have lost 66% of our dairy farmers in Queensland," he said.
"That number is what should be worrying people." Each year in Queensland we are now 100 million litres short, and Queenslanders will have to drink more UHD milk as fresh milk supplies further dwindle.
"This is the worse I have every seen it," Mr Cochrane said.
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