Leaders urged stay course on Basin Plan

May 03, 2018

The Murray Darling Basin Plan has been subjected to countless reviews and inquiries since its inception, but the message from irrigators remains clear – we cannot abandon the plan.

A recent inquiry by the Murray Darling Basin Authority recommended slashing the water recovery target by 70 gigalitres (GL) – 18 per cent – to lessen the impact on irrigation communities.

Such a move has been supported by farmers, but it has been bitterly opposed by environmental groups and the Greens, who claim the Basin Plan is failing to deliver for the environment.

The Greens have already succeeded in having the proposed changes to the federal Water Act disallowed by the Senate, but the issue is expected to return to the upper house on May 7 and could threaten the entire Plan.

This will surely inflame tensions with Victoria and NSW. The two states have already flagged a willingness to pull the plug on the Basin Plan if the disallowance motion gets through, leaving the whole show on the brink of collapse.

An emotional response would only be a disaster for irrigation communities along the east coast. We need our political leaders to come back to the table in good faith with a vision to act on behalf of the whole community.

The Basin Plan is flexible -- water should be able to come from a range of projects and alternative arrangements agreed by the States. It does not have to be recovered solely from irrigators through on-farm projects. The key is that the ‘upwater’ is found without negative social or economic impacts to communities along the river.

Australian Dairy Farmers has strongly advocated for the recovery of 605GL in offsets and would like to see the Basin states deliver the full 605GL to be sure no further water is recovered from irrigators.

ADF and the Australian Dairy Industry Council have remained firm in advocating to halt Federal Government water buybacks at 1500 GL and urging the Government to make clear that it will not seek to recover the additional 450GL if it would harm our farming communities.

The Government is restricted by the Water Act from purchasing more than 1500 GL. It has so far purchased around 1160 GL and can still purchase 340GL. But the 450GL of upwater is exempt from the restriction, meaning that about 790GL can still be bought by the Government.

Alternatively, the upwater can include entitlements given up by farmers in return for Federal funding of on-farm upgrades. Either way, we are faced with the prospect of more water being ripped from productive agricultural use.

All states agreed to the offsets as a mechanism for achieving the goals of the plan. No State should be walking away from that agreed process now. The offsets will deliver better environmental outcomes than merely sending more water down the river and hoping for the best.

The process is now being complicated further by a South Australian Royal Commission into the Plan, which intends to invite witnesses to attend formal hearings from all four Basin states.

It is now likely this could change with the election last month of a new government in South Australia. The Australian Government is understood to be encouraging SA Premier Steven Marshall to wind back the Royal Commission’s terms of reference.

This is only the latest in a series of reviews and inquiries that have for more than five years plagued the Basin Plan. Running concurrently with the Royal Commission is a federally funded review which will, again, look at the effectiveness of the Plan.

We’re relying on all parties to reaffirm their commitment to the Basin Plan and reassure us that in retaining control of water, they are operating in good faith. It’s time to quit the review process and continue with the agreed course.

The Plan will never be able to satisfy all parties equally. But it is vital we stick to the original goal and ensure the 2750GL target is delivered as agreed, in part through 605GL in environmental offsets.

Skilled migrant labour vital for dairy

May 03, 2018

It isn’t easy being a dairy farmer. A lot of people think we just milk cows all day, but the reality is farmers need a wide range of skills to manage a sustainable farm business.

In fact, the National Centre for Dairy Education estimated that dairy farmers need over 170 different skills to run a successful farm business.

Apart from milking, farmers have to feed livestock, make hay and silage, operate machinery, protect waterways, manage milk quality assurance and supervise staff.

It really is a skilled profession, and one that rarely gets the credit it deserves. This is underscored by the crippling skills shortage that the industry continues to face.

To this end, we rely on our political representatives to address the problem. Unfortunately, there is still a misapprehension from some in Canberra that farming is an unskilled industry which should be able to source labour from the pool of unemployed in regional areas.

Reality again is different. The local labour just doesn’t exist, and many dairy employers rely on skilled migrants brought to Australia under subclass 457 visas to fill core on-farm roles. Many farmers even consider overseas workers to be integral to their long-term business strategy.

The dairy industry has found the 457 visa very useful. It has enabled us to recruit skilled workers from overseas for farm management roles. And it has also given these workers a pathway to permanent residency. Everybody wins.

We were struck a blow when the 457 visa was abolished and replaced from March this year by the Temporary Skill Shortage visa, a scheme that operates in two streams – for short-term labour for up to two years with the option of a two-year renewal, and for medium-term labour for up to four years. Only the second stream offers the possibility of permanent residency.

Industries eligible under each stream is determined by the Regional Occupations List. Dairy farming is currently listed as a short-term skill, which will only hamper our ability to use the scheme because the prospect of permanent residency is an important factor in attracting skilled overseas workers.

It should be clear to even casual onlookers that agricultural industries are not just facing a “temporary” skills shortage. This is a problem we have been battling for years and one that will only grow worse unless it is addressed now.

It is strange that dairy farming has remained on the Regional Occupations List yet has not been placed on the Medium Labour TSS.

One concern is that dairy farming could be wiped from the list entirely when the list is reviewed in July. We can’t let that happen and advocates in the industry – including Australian Dairy Farmers and Dairy Australia – are working to ensure farmers’ voices remain strong on this issue.

It is vital that while the skills shortage persists, dairy farmers remain on the Regional Occupations List and that the federal Government take immediate action to allow skilled overseas workers to gain longer visas and a pathway to permanent residency.

Given the size of the dairy industry it will take considerable time to correct the documented skills shortage with suitably qualified Australian workers.

In the meantime, dairy farmers will continue to struggle to staff their businesses with skilled workers and need to have reliable access to skilled overseas workers.

Let’s not forget that farmers are not the only people who stand to benefit from allowing skilled overseas workers opportunities in Australia. A recent report into the rural workforce found that immigrant farmers not only fill labour shortages, but they also bring with them new technological insights gained overseas to apply to Australian farming, providing a valuable contribution to regional Australia.

As the Regional Occupations List comes under review, this insight hopefully provides our decision-makers with food for thought and an urgent lifeline to an industry that still faces a critical shortage of skilled labour.

Dairy Bio – A day on the green

Sep 22, 2017

The ability to access new technologies is essential for dairy farmers to keep the cost of production down.

DairyBio CRC and DataGene are two organisations that are steadily delivering solutions for the dairy industry in the fields of animal health, fertility, herd improvements and genetics.

Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) and the Australian Dairy Products Federation recently attended the Dairy Bio CRC Open Day in Hamilton, Victoria. More than 150 dairy and livestock farmers, and service providers from all over Australia attended the Open Day to view how research programs are changing the way dairy farmers innovate on-farm.

Hamilton’s Agriculture Victoria research farm is the site where all the large-scale, field-based pasture activities are located for DairyBio, and it is the best place to see how innovations will deliver game-changing increases in pasture yield, persistence and quality.

Throughout the day we were informed of the world’s largest precision-planted ryegrass filed trial, viewed drones and ground vehicles with advanced sensor technologies, walked through glasshouse facilities with the latest forage innovations and shown drought-tolerance trials which could be a game-changer for farmers in the future.

One of DairyBio CRC’s major achievements is the invention of a hybrid technique for ryegrass breeding. This will unlock a 20 per cent yield advantage in hybrid ryegrass varieties and also make it easier for plant breeders to use genomic selection and add novel endophytes in new pasture varieties. The current modeling suggests that hybrid ryegrass could deliver a benefit of $300 per hectare to Australian dairy farmers.

These viable solutions are a great example of how industry and research sectors work together to deliver some of the most positive and permanent changes to dairy herds and dairy pastures.

ADF recognises the potential productivity benefits of these new technologies and the need to innovate to compete on the global stage. The adoption of these technologies is going to become increasingly important to help farmers remain profitable, improve natural resource use and facilitate adaptation to ongoing business pressures.

The Australian dairy industry has achieved considerable improvements in farm productivity through the adoption of new technology and will continue to find new ways to be more efficient, and environmentally sustainable while still remaining profitable over the long term.

David Inall

ADF Chief Executive Officer

 

​Support from East to West

Jul 29, 2016

 

2016 is proving to be a year of contradictions for Australian dairy farmers.

As I spent a few days in Western Australia this week, I was reminded of the significant challenges we are facing right across the country and the remarkable resilience dairy farmers are showing in times of hardship. 

Western Australian dairy farmers have mostly been buffered from export oriented market volatility and have experienced a good season, yet they are not immune from other difficulties. Bushfires impacted the region and a growing oversupply in the domestic milk market led to processors telling farmers they’re no longer required. With limited options of processors that suppliers can shift to, these dairy farmers face an uncertain future.

ADF has been working with WA Farmers, processors and government, to help find a solution for these farmers as we know there are strong opportunities for the WA dairy industry.

Reflecting sentiments right across the country, it was heartening to see the amount of support for the industry at the WA Farmers Conference on Thursday. Even when we are under pressure, we are an industry that has the know-how and motivation to overcome these adversities and thrive in the long term.

No one is alone in these scenarios and we need to ensure that all farmers feel supported during tough times.

Over the past few years there have been examples in all states where decisions of some processors have severely affected farmers and reinforced the vulnerability of dairy farmers’ market position. It is unsustainable and unacceptable to expect that farmers continue to bear the full weight of financial risk in the supply chain.

We are working, and will continue to work, with all states to find a better way to balance this risk and improve transparency for the long-term, sustainable profit and ultimately, survival of the whole industry.

David Basham

Acting ADF President


 

 

 

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