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


 

 

 

United we are always stronger

Jun 24, 2016

Australian Dairy Farmers’ (ADF) first priority in recent months has been to secure support for our industry led initiatives, and targeted assistance from Federal and State Government to help see farmers through the short term cash flow crisis. It is frustrating that this has created the expectation of immediate relief yet some farmers are not eligible. We continue to lobby strong on farmers’ behalf to secure access for all affected farmers to Dairy Recovery Loans, now available in Victoria and Tasmania. We expect criteria to be released imminently in South Australia and New South Wales.

Many farmers have been calling the ADF and state dairy farming offices to discuss these assistance mechanisms, and highlight accessibility issues. We encourage all concerned farmers to keep these communication channels flowing as it is vital for ADF to know which issues to target.

As an industry, we are going beyond these short term measures to create stability for our industry’s long term future. Central to this is finding new ways to manage price volatility for farmers.

ADF in collaboration with our state members has long advocated the need for competition policy reform that addresses the unequal balance of market power in the supply chain with not only a Mandatory Code of Conduct to control said power, but also a Supermarket Ombudsman to effectively regulate the code. We have made important in roads in the last two years, but there is still work to be done.

Ideas developed through the Markets, Trade and Value Chain meeting last week are being progressed and work with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is gaining traction.

All three major political parties have come to the table to discuss potential solutions over recent weeks, and this is to be commended. It is essential that this movement does not stop at political rhetoric, but rather translate to real and tangible changes for our industry.

Ensuring issues that affect our entire sector’s ongoing productivity and competitiveness are on the Federal political agenda remains equally important during these tough times.

In particular, ADF continues to seek commitments from all political parties to support dairy’s access to secure, affordable water resources. While recent rainfall has been a welcome reprieve for many regions the long term outlook for water allocations remains bleak. ADF continues to push for vital changes to the Murray Darling Basin Plan and environmental water trading to make certain enough water is available when farmers need it and at an affordable price.

Funding for dedicated agricultural health services and resources is urgently required to safeguard the wellbeing of our workforce. Federal Government should make ongoing commitments to vital resources including the National Centre for Farmer Health to match that of State Government.

We continue to work closely with the National Farmers Federation to accelerate agriculture by addressing key workforce issues including the scrapping of the backpacker tax, as well as supporting industry’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions intensity.

Ensuring these priority areas are addressed in the upcoming election will enable our industry to take control of its own destiny, and develop a stronger, more prosperous and sustainable future.

Australian dairy farmers know we’re not immune to significant market forces such as the slowdown in the Chinese economy, or the Russian ban on importing product. But the low prices announced recently will be below the cost of production for many farmers. While some have faced such volatility before their current situation is no doubt compounded by the unprecedented challenges driven by processor decisions in the 2015-16 financial year.

ADF continues to work with all our state members - QDO, NSWFarmers, SADA, TFGA, UDV and WAFarmers as well as industry partners to hold State and Federal Government to their promises of support, and to drive real, meaningful change throughout the supply chain for the betterment of our industry. Together we are stronger than we will ever be divided – and united we will support farmers through the challenges they currently face.

David Basham

Acting ADF President

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