By Kirra Grimes
SOUTH Gippsland farmers say a national plan to create a brighter future for the dairy industry should prioritise efforts to increase understanding of the costs of dairy farming and the value of its products.
The need to improve education and awareness within the dairy sector itself, but especially in the wider community, emerged as the key theme as some 30 local farmers, along with service providers, processors, and other stakeholders, gathered at the Leongatha RSL last Thursday to discuss strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry.
The discussion was part of extensive ongoing consultations for the Australian Dairy Plan, a joint initiative of Dairy Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Dairy Products Federation, and the Gardiner Foundation, which aims to bring the whole Australian dairy industry together to establish a clear collective vision, purpose and strategy, and set a course for the next five years and beyond.
To get the dairy industry to a better place, the Leongatha group picked as their top priorities:
* Increasing “all round understanding of business of farming,” all through the supply chain;
* Incorporating agriculture into the education system, from primary school level; and
* “Lifting engagement of the urban public” so that they value milk more and in turn, pay more for it.
After identifying these and other key challenges facing the industry, participants, representing a range of demographics and farming backgrounds, were asked to brainstorm possible solutions, with passionate ambassadors, fair and transparent pricing models, a skilled workforce, and the rebranding of Australian milk as a highly valued ‘superfood,’ all featuring in the vision of an ideal future.
Rhiannon Schellekens of Wonthaggi North and Thelma Hutchison of Loch were given the task of brainstorming ideas to increase young people’s interest in dairy careers.
“It’s definitely important that young people can see a career path in the dairy industry and that they can make a good contribution and earn a reasonable income,” said Thelma, a retired dairy farmer who now trains agriculture students at Gippsland TAFE (formerly Federation Training) in Leongatha.
One of the younger farmers in the room, Rhiannon used her own story as an example of the flexibility of dairy careers – something she said those outside the industry might not be aware of.
“I grew up in beef, then went out working in a customer-facing role, but I got sick of it after a while and wanted to go back to ag – that was where my passion was,” Rhiannon said.
“I also wanted a challenge, and I knew nothing about dairy, so when I saw job ad in the paper for a herd tester, I applied, and I got it.
“I did that for several years and then met my partner, who’s a dairy farmer. Now, I’ve got two kids on a family dairy farm.
“But I’ve kept working. I’ve got a good balance between farm work and talking to clients for Hico [Herd Improvement Co-Operative Australia Ltd]. So, you can do both – manage a farm and be out there working with people.”
Some workshop participants said the jury was still out in terms of what the Australian Dairy Plan would actually deliver, but most agreed it was encouraging to see the industry working as one to plan for the future.
According to facilitators, more than 1000 people have participated in Dairy Plan consultations to date, most of them dairy farmers, with similar themes emerging in workshops held across the nation.
This grassroots advice will be collated into a single document, anticipated to be delivered by October this year, setting out the future path for the industry, including measurable goals to plot the industry’s progress.
The plan will also be used to guide the development of other key industry documents.
If you missed your local workshop, you can still contribute to development of the Australian Dairy Plan by heading to https://adp.oursay.org/home