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Dairy careers help prolong football passion

Lifelong mates Barry Clarke and Geoff Hutchinson have many reasons to be thankful for being part of the dairy industry. Dairy has given them a profitable career and jobs they enjoy – and it’s also helped to prolong their football careers into their 50s.

While most men their age are thinking about low-impact sports, every second Sunday the South Australian dairy farmers and milk processors dusts off their old football boots and line up in the local super rules football competition.

It doesn’t end there. Three times last year Barry helped his old team Myponga-Sellicks when they were short on numbers in the B-grade division, adding to his remarkable record of more than 550 A-grade games at the age of 47 and another 100 B-grade games since then. Geoff is no slouch either, clocking up over 460 games of his own between the two grades.

“I never got many injuries and I think dairy farming was probably part of that,” Barry said.

“As I got older I got stiff and sore but you have to get out of bed and milk the cows, walk around, climb up and down the steps and carry buckets of milk. I’m sure it helped more than sitting around on the couch all day.”

The duo, who met in primary school, have had an equally impressive dairy career.

Ten years ago an off-the-cuff comment while on holidays together led to a successful business partnership between Barry and his wife Merridie, Geoff and wife Louise, and Chris and Karen Royans.

“We were at Geoff’s place at Wallaroo and there was a general conversation about the crap milk prices and high input costs. As a throw-away line I said to Geoff we ought to bottle and sell our own milk,” Barry said.

“Geoff rang me back on the Monday morning and said he’d given Chris a ring and we should have a crack.”

They did have a crack and two years later the first bottles rolled off the production line.

A decade after that first discussion, the Fleurieu Milk Company continues to thrive. The partners own three farms that supply milk for the processing plant and recently added a new supplier to the mix to increase production.

“We still talk about it now and then; there’s a bit of disbelief about how it’s all grown,” Geoff said. “We’ve got the best part of 40 staff working in some capacity for the factory and we supply milk to about 600 outlets.”

The business, which was built around a successful domestic market, has also just secured Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service accreditation to export to China.

“Because the farms are growing and we’ve taken on another milk supplier, we’re interested in having a look but I wouldn’t want export to be any more than 20 per cent of our income,” Barry said.

“The domestic market has got us to where we are and it’s still a pretty good market. People obviously like the product.”

Barry describes the products as fresh from the cow and pasteurised and packaged on the farm.

“We don’t do anything to standardise it. At different times of the year it will taste a bit different, that’s just the way it is.

The people who buy it like to know where it comes from and that we treat our calves and cows well.”

The Clarkes’ Roslyn Vale farm runs about 300 Jerseys that contribute to the Jersey Premium brand, while the Hutchinsons’ 200-odd Holsteins from the Windy Vale Holstein Stud supply the Fleurieu Farm Fresh Range.

They admit the peninsula is a tough area to farm and that moving into production protected their future.

“The idea of setting the factory up was to make our farms viable. The business has allowed us to pay ourselves a premium for our milk,” Geoff said.

“We try not to take ourselves too seriously. We’ve fallen onto something that works, but we’re still farmers and the success of the factory has allowed us to focus more on farming again.”

Time on the farm is a welcome part of their days.

“I’ve always enjoyed dairy farming and I like the cows. Geoff’s the same. We both enjoy being in the dairy milking the cows in the morning. You don’t have to talk to anybody if you don’t want to, you can just listen to the radio and milk the cows,” Barry said.

The company also gives back to the local community, supporting causes like the Little Heroes Foundation for ill children and local sporting clubs.

“Sport has been fantastic to our families and as a follow-on we’ve been able to sponsor some of these groups. Having children play sport of any kind is fantastic for them and for building bonds with people,” Geoff said.

“Football has always been a big part of our community. In our 1983 premiership side, 15 of the 25 blokes were dairy farmers. We never had a hotel in town so footy was the best social gathering place to meet a full cross-section of the local area. The area and landscape has changed a bit since then but it’s still very community-based.”

Barry sees a bright future for dairy.

“The industry is as good as it has been for quite some time. With exports and world prices it seems likely to be okay for
a while. You want the industry to be buoyant and young people to come into it,” he said.

And he still enjoys his football.

“I’ll still be playing super rules every second Sunday this year. You can have a good laugh and joke in the super rules.
We’re past being dead serious at our age.”