Dairy's watershed year

Posted on Friday, December 07, 2018 - Category: In the News

It has been a big year for the dairy industry and ADF – sometimes difficult, but often rewarding. I want to reflect, in the final Dairy Insights for the year, on some of the significant moments from the past year.

The industry lost Murray Goulburn, which for nearly 70 years has been a bedrock of the Australian dairy industry – our biggest farmer co-op and our largest dairy processor.

The sale of Murray Goulburn to Canadian dairy company Saputo has no doubt changed the dairy landscape forever and the industry is still coming to terms with this event.

ADF led an industry discussion on the code of practice. Working under the auspices of the ADIC, we reviewed the voluntary code of practice and, through consultations with our state dairy farmer members, developed draft clauses to be incorporated into a new code of practice being implemented by the federal Government.

The Government is now using the ADIC work as a foundation to engage farmers in consultations around what they want in a mandatory code of practice.

We called for a change to the federal Government’s skilled worker visa system. We told the Government that the job of dairy farmer needs to be upgraded from an unskilled occupation to skilled. Not only that, but we argued that the visa systems should provide skilled workers with access to longer visa period and a pathway for permanent residency.

This is important because the industry is losing too much money – up to $364 million per year – due to labour shortages. The dairy industry employs more than 40,000, but we will continue to suffer if we can’t gain access to skilled labour.

This year we pushed for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to include a socio-economic test that is fair for all farmers. Dairy communities cannot tolerate any further job losses or having to pay for increased temporary water costs due to less water being available. We advocated for a test that will deliver neutral or positive benefits for Basin communities.

We have also maintained an active policy focus on key areas such as animal welfare, trade and market access, biosecurity, and social licence.

But despite the achievements of this year, there is still much work to be done. This has been a watershed year for the dairy industry. I also want to highlight some of our priorities going forward.

Collaboration is vital between ADF, the state dairy farmer organisations, our industry services body Dairy Australia, and indeed across whole dairy value network.

With the departure of our major co-operative the role of industry leadership falls fairly and squarely with farmers through their representative and service bodies.

There is no institution to provide weight to the farmers voice. That will only come with farmers speaking as one.

We are not in competition with one another at the farmgate, and there can be no reason to depart from the original purpose of ADF “to promote the interests of the dairy farmers of the Commonwealth in all matters affecting them.”

To do this requires we engage in the painstaking work of building consensus. There will always be gaps and ambiguities, but is our greatest advantage in acting alone or together in the long-term interest of the industry?

We also need to seriously consider greater investment in leadership opportunities. We must have open and honest discussions about the future of dairy advocacy.

Farmers should have greater ownership over the achievements and opportunities in the industry, and we need to develop opportunities to engage the next generation and harness their passion for the dairy industry.

Looking ahead, it is important to keep in mind that while we are an industry that has been under intense pressure, we are also an industry that has the know-how and resilience to overcome adversity and thrive in the long term.

- Terry Richardson, ADF President


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