Meet the Co-ops

Fightback Farmers: ABC documentary

In the ABC’s new documentary, Fightback Farmers: Feeding Australia Together, we explore three co-ops all borne out of circumstances.

Two of the three co-ops are new and still struggling to find their feet. They are Mountain Milk Co-operative in the Kiewa Valley of north eastern Victoria and the Limestone Coast Fishermen’s Co-operative in South Australia. Mountain Milk was borne out of the collapse of the Murray Goulburn dairy empire. Limestone Coast Fishermen’s Co-operative was formed to fend off larger corporate approaches and support the local fishers through strength in numbers.

The third is a farmers co-op created to support the old Victorian tobacco industry. It’s called TAFCO in the town of Myrtleford. Now more than 30 years old, TAFCO struggled to survive when tobacco farming drew its last breath in 2006 until it found strength in the ideas and innovation of the farmers themselves. See details on the farmers and the co-operatives on the following pages.

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Cream of the Crop

Dairy farming in the verdant rolling fields of north east Victoria went into a nosedive when Australia’s largest milk processor collapsed. Faced with a do or die decision, eight small dairy farmers took the bold step of creating their own co-operative. Mountain Milk was born. 150 years of ancestral farming on their lands compelled Stuart, Scott and Teresa to fight for their family farms and their way of life. In control of their destiny again, the farmers have set their own milk price and are investing with confidence. But having seen one large co-operative collapse, will Mountain Milk survive?

Stuart Crosthwaite

Rising from Tobacco’s Ashes

It wasn’t that long ago that Australia boasted a thriving tobacco industry. In north eastern Victoria, the tobacco farmers relied on the co-operative TAFCO for all their needs. For 20 years, TAFCO was the heart and soul of the community. But when Australia’s tobacco growing industry imploded in 2007, TAFCO lost half its business and faced ruin. Rather than shut up shop, the agricultural supply business in the country town of Myrtleford reinvented itself to help the struggling community diversify. Today TAFCO has 630 loyal members, including many of Italian descent. Committed to community, TAFCO delivers products free of charge within an 80 kilometre radius and co-ordinates mental health workshops for farmers hit by bushfires and other hardships. Passionate about his community, co-op member Lachlan Campbell created the ever-expanding Myrtleford Farmers’ Market. But it’s not easy going. Lachlan fears the co-op could still fail if it focuses on profit instead of community.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Limestone Coast Fishermen’s Co-op is just two years old, it started out of necessity and has now grown to become an important part of its local community, providing local employment and much needed economic boost. They strongly believe their move to a co-operative structure has not only loosened the grip of corporately-owned factories and processors on their local seafood industry, it has also brought longer term benefits for the smaller, generational fishing families and their coastal towns and communities. At the heart of the co-operative is legendary fisherman Slim Reilly thankful to have the strength in numbers of the co-op to face the export crisis during COVID.  Key to the co-operative’s survival is Justin Phillips, their young CEO, equally shrewd in both town and country. But their next season is unknown territory for the fishing families of South Australia’s southern-most coastline.

“After the tobacco had folded, we had the bush fires a few months later, then we had floods. I fell into a dark hole and struggled to get myself out of it.”

Silvana Micheli - Pasta Maker