Fresh milk en route to China

NSW co-op to begin first commercial arrangement for supply of fresh milk from Australia to China.

A new export industry begins tonight when 4500 bottles of milk from farmer-owned Norco Co-operative in northern NSW are loaded on to a cargo plane in Sydney bound for Shanghai.

It will be the first commercial shipment of fresh milk from Australia direct to China, able to be sold fresh and at high values in shops and supermarkets within seven days of being produced at Mark Perry’s farm at ­Raleigh on the banks of the Bellingen River.

The new export industry is aimed squarely at the top echelons of Chinese society; where parents and grandparents have enough money and education to be concerned about the safety, purity and healthiness of the milk they and their children are drinking and can afford the steep $7 to $9 a litre price tag the fresh milk will cost.

As one of 190 farming families supplying Norco’s dairy factory at Raleigh, Mr Perry is delighted at the speed with which the fledgling new growth market to China has been developed. It promises not just diversity of markets, but potential to return much greater profits — through higher milk prices — to the farmers that own and supply the northern NSW co-operative.

“The Coles and Woolworths wars that have pushed milk prices down to $1 a litre, combined with three floods, have made it a really tough time to be a dairy farmer around here; this is the most positive thing that has happened in dairying in the past five years as it can only lift milk price sustainability and overall returns,” Mr Perry said.

With his 280 Friesian cows producing 6000 litres of milk a day, Mr Perry was delighted that much of his Sunday milk delivery to Norco’s heritage dairy factory made its way into the Chinese­labelled plastic bottles being filled yesterday morning, trucked to Sydney and due to fly to Shanghai tonight.

Norco chief executive Brett Kelly said the breakthrough that allowed his company to become the first to fly fresh milk from Australia or New Zealand to China — rather than shipping by boat the standard long life, Extended Shelf Life or UHT-treated milk that can last for up to three months — was a deal between Chinese and Australian officials that allowed for both country’s six-day milk testing, quarantine and quality assurance protocols to be carried out simultaneously.

This avoided delaying the bottled fresh milk for a total of 12 days, on both sides of the plane trip, before it could be sold to Chinese consumers plus a week of storage and handling, which put it beyond its shelf life.

Mr Kelly said the smoothing of the importing fresh milk supply pipeline from 21 days to nine — involving 18 months of negotiations between dairy industry body Dairy Connect, Norco partner and Australian food exporters Peloris Global Sourcing and Chinese officials — was a major hurdle to overcome.

Mr Kelly said the reputation that Australian dairy products had for being premium, quality, fresh and safe foods could not be underestimated, with Australia having overtaken New Zealand in the mind of Chinese consumers as “clean and green” since a damaging bacterial contamination scare and recall involving NZ baby milk formula last year.

Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation president Brian Tessmann believes the Chinese export breakthrough by Norco is a game-changer for the dairy industry in northern NSW and Queensland which, unlike its southern counterparts, has been totally dependent on domestic milk sales with no access to export processing.

Norco’s Raleigh factory manager Neil Hudson marvelled at the latest change.

“There’s a lot of promise and excitement about today,” Mr Hudson said.

“It is hard to believe that same bottle of fresh milk being bottled now will go all the way from here and be sold in China in just a few days.”