The 2016 dairy crisis has had an unlikely payoff for a Drouin farming family, who is now supplying a hipster micro-dairy in inner-city Melbourne.
Like thousands of other farmers, Glenn and Rose Atherton were caught short when dairy giant Murray Goulburn suddenly announced a savage and retrospective price cut in April last year.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Athertons. Running about 300 Friesian cows on 220 hectares on the outskirts of Drouin, they had just stretched themselves financially to buy an extra 30 hectares.
“It was going to be a tight season even before the price cut,” Mrs Atherton said.
It wasn’t easy for them to turn their backs on Murray Goulburn, Australia’s biggest dairy co-operative.
“We had been with them 19 years and 10 months. We always assumed we were going to be 50-year suppliers.”
So “true blue” were they that she was a member of the company’s supplier development program.
In April she attended a three-day leadership course in Melbourne. Two weeks later, Murray Goulburn made its shock announcement.
“I felt like I had been kicked in the guts,” she said. “I walked around like a zombie for a couple of days.”
And then she got on the phone.
First she rang the other big companies to see if they could get another milk contract. All had a waiting list.
Then she rang the smaller Melbourne companies – dairy processors and cheese makers – to see if they wanted more milk. No success.
Then came a stroke of luck. She noticed a friend had “liked” St David Dairy on Facebook. St David wasn’t on the list that she had googled.
Intrigued, she investigated further and found it was a small processor based in Fitzroy supplying milk, cream, butter and yoghurt to a very niche market of upmarket cafes and restaurants.
She called the company’s founder and managing director Ben Evans and asked if he wanted to buy their milk.
Now she can laugh at her cheek. “But if you don’t ring and ask, you don’t know,” she says. “People can only say no.”