THE Chinese buyout of Lion Dairy and Drinks could mean a second coming for the floundering Atherton Tableland dairy industry.
There are cautious expectations that the $600 million purchase of Lion by Chinese company Mengniu Dairy could lead to expansion on the Tableland of the Dairy Farmers brand.
Dairy farm numbers on the Tableland have shrunk from 268 in 1981 to 42 today. Milk production of 134 million litres from 185 farms in 1999 has plummeted to 48 million litres from the 42 farms left operating today.
"That was what the processor (Japanese-owned, Kirin) wanted, 48 million litres. They didn't want any more than that so we couldn't expand," Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation state councillor James Geraghty said this week.
Mr Geraghty is wary, but is leaning towards optimism when it comes to the Chinese taking ownership of the Dairy Farmers plant in Malanda.
He is unfazed by the fact that the Chinese are the new owners of his local milk factory.
Amid the hue and cry about the Chinese buying another Australian asset, he points out that Mengniu will not be the first foreign-owned company to own the Malanda milk factory. Prior to last week's purchase by the Chinese, the Malanda milk factory had been owned by Japanese and Filipino interests. Mr Geraghty said the Chinese brought it from Lion Dairy and Drinks, which was owned by Japanese brewer Kirin. He said that before Kirin brought it, Dairy Farmers was owned by Filipino company, San Miguel.
"Really, if we had a choice between a Japanese brewer who doesn't want to be here and a Chinese milk company who wants to be here, we'll take the Chinese," he said.
He has had no contact with the new Chinese owners and can only draw his early opinions on what he has read in connection to the purchase.
"The Chinese are saying they want to grow the market. I say 'show us'. We want to grow our industry here. I just hope this is the way forward. We were happy when the Japanese bought Dairy Farmers. They had deep pockets, but as it turned out they did not grow the business," he said.
A side issue to the Chinese purchase of Dairy Farmers is the reaction it has sparked on social media from those opposed to foreign ownership in any shape or form of what are considered Australian business entities. There have been calls for boycotts of the Malanda product.
Farmers such as Donna Graham, whose son Jason manages their 940 cow herd near Millaa Milla and Mr Geraghty, said that opposition to Chinese ownership is a knee-jerk reaction. Both she and Mr Geraghty said critics, both on social media and in mainstream news platforms, haven't realised that the Malanda factory was previously owned by the Japanese and before that, Filipinos.
They said what these critics don't understand is that by boycotting Dairy Farmers products they are hurting small towns and the mum and dad businesses that make up these towns.
"We are hoping that the Chinese will be good for the industry," Mrs Graham said.