THE first Australian Dairy Plan is set to be released next month, promising to shake up the industry with a range of reforms including the creation of a single, new whole of industry national dairy organisation.
A draft published in December 2019 detailed measures designed in collaboration with over 1500 farmers, service providers, processors, retailers, investors and other key stakeholders across the country with the aim of creating a more profitable, confident and united industry.
A report released in January as part of the final stages of developing the plan included a recommendation to bring the current range of national and regional dairy organisations together as a ‘one stop shop’ for all industry services including policy, advocacy, research and development and marketing for dairy businesses across the entire supply chain.
It would operate through one national brand and a network of regional offices providing tailored local services.
It would be member-owned and overseen by a skills-based board. Farmers would contribute a single levy payment for all services and processing companies would also provide funding. Eligible expenditure on research and development would attract matched funding from the Commonwealth government.
Looking forward to the release of the final version of the plan are Mick and Paula Hughes of Inverloch, recently named Dairy Farmers of the Year in a national competition run by the Weekly Times, with their strong focus on pasture management and maximising profit, rather than production, setting them apart from their peers.
With a lot of confidence lost through the milk price crisis and collapse of local processor Murray Goulburn, they say the industry is in need of “direction and a representative, united voice,” but for any plan to be successful, it needs to be farmer driven.
“We’ve got to face that something has to change, and all the different groups need to work together, but we’ve got to have a major seat at the table, not just industry heads,” Mick said.
The Hugheses, who’ve made good use of international and interstate study tours in the past, also welcome the idea of increased Commonwealth government support for the industry as a whole, saying the New Zealand and Tasmanian governments do a better job of encouraging growth in the sector by providing subsidies and reducing red tape.
“It would be fantastic to have more support from government, especially in today’s climate. It would be nice to have more projects, research, support to help through environmental challenges. What they [dairy farmers] get in New Zealand and Tasmania is incredible compared to what we see here,” Mick said.
With milk prices up this year, the Hugheses say things have stabilised locally in terms of people quitting the industry, after a period Mick describes as the toughest thing he’s been through in 30 years of farming, even worse than going through drought in the McAlister Irrigation District.
“You can understand why people have left [the industry] over the last two years,” he said.
“It’s been really hard, financially. When your income goes down and your costs go up, with the indirect impact from drought – Even running out of water wasn’t as tough at that.”
In launching the draft plan, independent chair John Brumby spoke of “unprecedented market and climate volatility” creating a “perfect storm” of challenges in recent years.
He said proposals contained in the plan could add around one billion litres of additional national milk production annually by 2025, worth over $600 million per annum to dairy farmers, and that this additional growth would stimulate the creation of at least 1,000 direct new jobs, mostly in rural and regional areas.
The plan also aimed to help farmers better manage the increased cost of key inputs like feed, water and energy to support the profitability of their dairy businesses, he said.

Australian Dairy Plan
Key commitments and initiatives of the draft Australian Dairy Plan:
• An historic reset of how farmers and processors work together to provide greater transparency and consolidated information regarding farm milk prices, as well as the establishment of a Milk Price Monitor.
• New measures to drive a step change in on farm business and risk management by ensuring that by 2025, 100 per cent of dairy farms will have completed effective business plans.
• A renewed focus on attracting new people and investment, to build industry capacity and growth.
• A major ramp up of industry marketing and promotion to build trust with consumers and improve the value of dairy products.
• A heightened focus on industry fundamentals to accelerate progress in innovation, market development, policy leadership and sustainability.
• A more unified and strategic approach to collaborating with government on initiatives to stimulate industry growth, reduce costs and remove barriers, in line with the federal government’s 2030 goal of $100 billion in farmgate agriculture output. This includes working with government on dairy initiatives that can be supported by the annual $100 million Future Drought Fund.
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