Dairy farmers have warned a Senate inquiry Australia could soon be importing milk from New Zealand and other countries if the crisis enveloping the dairy industry is not addressed.
Voluntary group Farmer Power has joined calls for a 50 cent a litre levy on milk to help farmers struggling against the pricing policies of major supermarkets and clawback schemes initiated by processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra.
Dairy farmer Alex Symons shared stories of the situation on the ground with a Senate committee in Canberra on Wednesday, saying the situation was so bad you couldn't give away a farm nowadays.
It had been building for years, but the past five months had been the straw that broke the camel's back, he said.
Mr Symons argued raising the supermarket price of a litre of milk from $1 to $1.50 would take it back to 1980s levels.
"It's not a big ask," he said, disputing claims consumers wouldn't want to pay the higher price if it meant helping farmers.
The measure would enable most farmers to break even.
"We're not talking about making millionaires out of people here. This is about saving people," Mr Symons said.
"We get out of bed at 5 o'clock and say 'great, we're going to lose another $1000 today, let's go and do it'.
"We've turned into volunteers."
An ongoing levy would also mean farmers wouldn't have to keep funding Dairy Australia and money could be collected for loans to help other farmers buy their first property.
My Symons said there was no confidence in the industry and in the past five to six months most of the 25 to 35-year-old's who had purchased herds of cows had been wiped out.
He shared the story of a "terrific" young farmer who owed about $150,000 on his cows, when overnight he was hit with a $140,000 bill from Murrary Goulburn.
A bad season and the need for hay meant ending up with a $70,000 bank overdraft. Staying on for another year would have increased his debt by $130,000.
"He's gone and, pardon the French, there are shitloads of them that are getting out," Mr Symons said.
The group said farmers didn't need more loans or go into more debt.
"Putting it on the credit card is not the answer," vice-president Alex Robertson said.
Colleague Darryl Cardona expects Australia will soon be importing milk, including from New Zealand.
"I pretty much guess that this will happen in the next two years if it continues without any change."
The trio said an ACCC inquiry into the industry wouldn't hurt, but they had their doubts.
They also think the government's $500,000 for financial counselling only helps in some cases.
"To most farmers it's a little bit laughable," Mr Symons said.
Earlier, Australian Dairy Farmers interim CEO John McQueen told the hearing he could not see consumers or parliament agreeing to a 50 cent levy.
Agriculture department officials told the committee 44 farm businesses have had concessional loans approved, from 170 applications received.
They said the government hadn't considered a temporary milk levy in detail, but expressed concerns about consumers not buying milk if it cost more.