Last Thursday week, around 100 Kernot residents and others crowded into the Kernot Hall to find out more about the application of the Yoyou Dairy, a subsidiary of the Chinese Ningbo Dairy Group, to set up a free-stall feeding barn, bottling plant, cool store and parking areas at the Glenview Farm, 1010 Loch-Kernot Road, Kernot.
Also present were Bass Coast Mayor Kimberley Brown, councillors Clare Le Serve, Bradley Drew, Neil Rankine and Phil Wright, and Jodie Kennedy, the acting general manager of Bass Coast Shire.
On tables lay plans of the big changes proposed. These raised more questions, as did an information sheet explaining the project. Bass Coast Shire’s developmental services manager, Rebecca Mouy, ran the meeting and laid down ground rules for the evening: we would not discuss foreign ownership or nationality; we show respect.
Jon McNaught, the Gippsland manager for GHD, a global consulting company handling the application, presented the applicant’s proposal for the 560-acre property where currently 400-500 cows are being milked. He said Phase 1 was to install a bottling plant to take milk from the current cows, test the market and, with increased demand, increase the output of cows on the property.
The preferred option was to increase the number of cows on the property to 1000. Option 2 was to buy milk from neighbours. However, as the dairy group already own two farms in the area and is negotiating to buy more, this raises the question would the neighbours be themselves?
The consultant then discussed how the company would handle concerns already raised about employment, truck movements, water, animal health, noise and odour.
Many questions revealed the practical and local knowledge of the farmers present. For instance, they were unable to accept that the two bores already on the farm and the use of recycled water would be sufficient to cover the water needed for the proposal.
When it was suggested lots of issues needed to be covered and they should move on, one farmer responded, “Let’s cover this one until it’s finished”.
Asked to describe advertising for the project proposal, which was lodged on December 22, Rebecca Mouy said it consisted of sending letters to adjoining neighbours. One farmer interjected, “I didn’t get one and I live across the road”. An 83-centimetre sign was also placed on the front of the property.
Members of the fire brigade and conservation and animal protection groups also asked questions.
When questions were raised about employment, the meeting was again told they could not question who buys property in the area and they should take up the issue of foreign ownership with their local federal MP.
One woman spoke passionately and movingly about Kernot parents who had lost their sons in World War II. She said they built the Kernot church as a memorial to them and questioned the appropriateness of the proposed use of the land as it was next to the church.
Another questioner said cattle from the property were “on the road all the time”, and asked how double the number of cows could be controlled.
At one stage, Cr Bradley Drew intervened in proceedings to say, “Let Jon answer. Remember to respect the questioner and answerer even if you don’t like the answer. Councillors are present and want to hear the community.”
Locals were told they should “dob in anyone doing the wrong thing”, such as not paying union rates. “We rely on local knowledge for complaints.”
One vocal man pointed out, “When bringing in milk from other farms, it becomes an industrial site.” Jon McNaught answered: “If Option 2 is needed, there would need to be a second application because they’re in a farm zone.
A woman asked, “How can they build a huge plant if it’s proposed for only one farm’s milk?” Jon McNaught replied, “There’s interest in building other plants if it’s not allowed here.”
A second consultant, Justin McCallion from Dairy Constructions, stated that they had studied best practice from around the world and the applicant would be applying best practice found in countries such as Canada and the US.
In answer to a question about farm sizes, he quoted farm sizes of 20,000 in several barns and said they could grow potentially to 30,000 but here could be 100,000 because there was maximum land and water here.
A questioner pointed out, “Many local farmers try for best practice on their farms. Unlike us, other countries mentioned have very cold winters. They have intensive farming. We don’t need those numbers in the Bass Valley Basin, a food bowl.”
Justin McCallion argued, “A happy and healthy cow gives more milk.” As the cows would be walking on rubber most of the time, he claimed they would be happy.
Farmers pointed out problems with stockpiling huge quantities of solids (cow dung) from washing out the barns and then using it to fertilise the farm. As large parts of the property suffer from inundation over months of the year, a questioner wondered about the odour from the stockpiles. Mr McCallion could not say how long piles of manure would be held before being spread as fertiliser.
A young woman from an animal welfare group queried medicating the cattle. She said, “We already have a problem with antibiotics, and effluent is the major way they are spread. It will also spread through saliva, sneezing, etc, and when cattle are slaughtered.”
When another person questioned the visual impact, Ms Mouy said they would have to look at the landscape overlay.
Proximity to Bass River was a major concern. One farmer pointed out that if the farm was spread with fertiliser from the stockpile and 300 acres of the farm went under water, the fertiliser would run down with the overflow into the Bass River.
Westernport Water managing director Murray Jackson queries whether the impact on the Bass River had been assessed. “Hasn’t anyone seen a Big Wet here?” he asked.
A man pointed out that power transmission lines had been put underground. ‘It was recognised that environmentally this area has significance,” he said. “This [the proposed farm use] does not fit in this state.” Loud applause broke out. Ms Mouy responded, “Don’t assume anything has been decided”.
When a questioner suggested the plant be built at Wonthaggi at an industrial site, Jon McNaught said, "They wanted to do it all on one spot. It was an economic decision.” The questioner pointed out there was already a plant at Archies Creek.
Another man asked, “If the application is granted, where does Council stand when someone over the road wants to do something. What density then?” Ms Mouy answered, “They would have to go through the same process, for instance to look at the road network to see if it’s appropriate.” ‘Within a two-kilometre radius only so many septic tanks are allowed …,” the man pointed out. Ms Mouy said, “There would be a limitation on the number of head of cattle.”
When a woman asked if the cattle would calve in the two front paddocks, Jon McNaught said they would calve at a Tenby Point property owned by the company. “How many trucks would that involve?” the woman responded. “How many would have to come via the bridge [near the Kernot Store]?”
Another woman asked to make a statement. “I’m against factory farms – Australia has best practice here. We don’t need US and Canada examples.” Rousing applause followed.
In closing the meeting Rebecca Mouy said, “Your concerns are valid. We will be back to follow up some of your concerns.”
March 1, 2015
As an ex-dairy farm worker I commend the Bass Coast Post for its even-handed coverage of the proposed Kernot Milk Factory. Foreign ownership of assets is always an emotionally charged issue. I hope that public debate isn’t dragged down to Pauline Hansonesque rhetoric.
However, let’s also hope that this project doesn’t follow the path of the Longyuan International purchase of Malmo Farm near Cobram. In 2008 they paid around $6 million for the 500-hectare property.
A few years later it was sold to the ACE Farming Company. At that time, Rosemary Hu, Longyuan International Manager, told the Australian Financial Review that "We lost money so we sold the farm…..We didn’t understand the management…..We don't want to invest in dairy farms any more, it's too hard.”
Given the high set up costs of the Kernot operation there will be enormous pressure to operate at minimum standards of animal welfare and employment conditions. Compliance to such standards could soon be much harder for outsiders to monitor if the proposed Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 makes it through the Federal Parliament.
This Private Senator’s Bill passed its second reading in the Senate on February 11. It contains amendments that are counterproductive to their stated intent. They are designed to make it much harder for activists to expose systematic mistreatment of animals by imposing severe penalties for covertly holding onto evidence of such mistreatment.
I urge anybody who is interested in animal welfare to put pressure on our Federal representatives to carefully consider the implications of this Bill before it progresses through the democratic process.
Geoff Ellis, Wattle Bank
February 27, 2015
Their proposed business model is based on putting an Australian (very high value) green image on a product they want to produce in Australia under Chinese control and (labour) costs. The frozen berry problems this week do nothing for their cause.
Pasteurised packaged milk from Australia, or produced by Chinese farms owned by overseas or strong branded companies, sells for between 50 and 100 per cent more than pasteurised milk from average Chinese farms.
Ian Teese, ITAgribusiness, Glen Waverley
(Mr Teese lived in Jiangsu province China, just north of Ningbo, for 20 months setting up a large dairy feedlot and milk pasteurising plant and spent more than four years working in China on agricultural development.)
February 25, 2015
Many thanks to Meryl Tobin for a detailed account of the Kernot dairy factory proposal.
It chills my blood.
- The “comfort of cattle” means locking them up in stalls for much of their lives. The proposed increase of cattle will ensure this. That is my primary concern.
- The antibiotics that would be used will seep into our waterways. The unsprayed vegetables we grow may end up full of antibiotics which could enter our food chain in other ways.
- The increase of traffic into the area will be significant.
- The granting of this permit will create a precedent for how many others? That will change the nature of our silent clean area?
- The track record of the Chinese industries in not good.
Felicia Di Stefano, Glen Forbes