Author Archives: milkmaidmarian

About milkmaidmarian

Our family (me, my husband, little girl and boy) have a medium-sized farm in Gippsland, Victoria. Our farm is rain-fed rather than irrigated and has been in the family for generations. We love our farm and cows. We hope our blog, Milk Maid Marian We hope this blog helps other Aussies get a taste of life on the land.

What it will take to encourage dairy farmers to grow

The much lamented stagnant Australian milk pond

The much lamented stagnant Australian milk pond

Consider this entreaty from the charming Lino Saputo Jr, who is the newish owner of Warrnambool Cheese & Butter:

“…what will it take for the dairy farmers to be optimistic about the dairy industry and investing in their farms and what kinds of programs can we put in place that will assist them.”

“What we are trying to do in Australia is appeal to the dairy farmers and say, ‘Look, we can be a good home for your milk. If you choose to increase your herd size and you’re producing more milk, we will put on the infrastructure to process that milk’.”

Lino’s not alone. Many of the processors including our own co-op, MG, would like to see Australian dairy farmers arise from our slumber and produce more, more, more. Why, the industry even commissioned the Horizon 2020 Report last year to work out why we are so sluggish.

But even a simple dairy farmer can sum it up in two words: reliable profitability. See how simple that is? Now look at the chart from the “Productivity in the Australian dairy industry” report released by ABARES this month below:

"Productivity in the Australian Dairy Sector", ABARES, September 2014

“Productivity in the Australian Dairy Sector”, ABARES, September 2014

The volatility is crippling. We spend the bad years feeling desperate and the good years catching up on the bad year before with an eye to battening down the hatches for the next onslaught. When you consider that it takes years of investment to make a dairy farm grow, this is hardly ideal. The extra heifers you rear in the first good year are just as likely to be exported merely to pay feed bills in the next.

Next, match the chart above with the depressing-looking slide below.

DairyTermsTrade

The ABARES report’s authors note that:

“With little control over input prices and output prices, farmers typically rely on productivity growth to maintain profitability—by seeking more efficient ways to combine inputs to produce outputs. In the face of declining terms of trade over the longer term, farms with very low productivity growth may also have falling profits.”

So, we are innovating but with increasingly fewer resources, as government takes the razor to any bodies it suspects to be unduly clever, like the CSIRO and DEPI.

DairyProductivity

But it’s not all doom and gloom because some of the processors are at last coming to grips with the concept factories dependent on milk are, in fact, dependent on farms and have newly-fledged incentives for farmers to grow production.

Over the next few weeks, Milk Maid Marian will be looking at a couple of concepts designed to stimulate growth – and not just a couple of cents a litre if you’re willing to bet the farm!

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How an FTA with China will keep fresh milk on Aussie tables

Please, sir, may we have an FTA4dairy?

Please, sir, may we have an FTA4dairy?

If you live in the big Australian states there’s a real chance the milk on your Weeties has to be trucked across the Nullabor or over the Murray. Why? Because the local dairy farmers just can’t make a living out of supplying milk to you. Nor is there enough infrastructure left to export from those states. It’s a downward spiral that has left WA dependent on South Australian milk.

Here in Victoria, home to two-thirds of Australia’s milk, we have a strong export industry and milk production is steady. There’s a hell of a lot of hype about the rivers of white gold based on China’s thirst but, so far, little of it has flowed back to the farm gate.

The situation is different in New Zealand. They have a flourishing dairy sector that is the envy of Australia. The Kiwi climate – political, economic and pastoral – are almost perfect for dairying, making them our most formidable competitors. And they have a free trade agreement with China that puts them at up to an 18% competitive advantage straight off the bat. Australia’s dairy farming families are not asking for a hand out. All we ask for is a fair go.

My little fellow may not understand why he’s grinning in the middle of a paddock holding a sign but if you want him to grow up helping put milk on your children’s Weeties, please tweet a pic of yourself with #FTA4dairy today. He needs your help to get the deal done.

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Filed under Community, Dairy Products, Farm

On your marks for Spring on the farm

Spring starts tomorrow

Spring starts tomorrow


I’m excited. Fertiliser’s going on, calves are still being born and raised, almost all of the milkers are in and we are joining again with an eye to the next generation. The grass is growing a new leaf every seven days and, before we know it, the silage harvest will start.

This is the make or break time of year when everything has to be done right. Miss cutting a paddock of silage by a week and it could mean buying in expensive fodder later, miss a cow’s readiness to mate and it could cost you $250 in lost milk, miss a problem calving and it might cost a cow’s life.

All our skills are tested in Spring – from biology through to animal behaviour – so we need tools to help us.

We stick “scratchy tickets” on each cow’s back to make it easier to see when she’s ready to mate. Okay, she’s got no chance of winning the lottery but the silver coating of these stickers gets rubbed off when other cows leap onto her back in response to her hormonal cues, revealing hot pink, yellow or orange tell tales underneath.

The results of summertime soil tests and the advice of our agronomist allow us to maximise the performance of our pastures while minimising the impact on the environment.

Knowing when silage involves crawling around the paddocks keeping a close eye on grass growth, then entering the results into a clever little “Rotation Right” spreadsheet devised by our guru friends at DEPI.

But raising calves and watching over expectant cows? That’s a whole lot of tender care, time and generations of farming knowledge (yes, yes, combined with the latest advances in science).

This is when a farmer really knows she’s alive!

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Filed under Animal Health and Welfare, Calves, Climate, Farm

Social media campaign to support a ‘fair go’ China FTA

FTA4Dairy

The Kiwis already have one. We need one too and Aussie dairy farmers are calling on people power to win it next Monday.

A free trade agreement with China is the difference between being truly competitive, or not, in one of the world’s most important markets for Aussie dairy. The peak body for Australian dairy farmers, appropriately named Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) is leading a social media campaign to get the deal done.

ADF CEO Natalie Collard answered some questions on the campaign.

MMM: What’s planned?

ADF: Through a coordinated social media campaign, ADF is seeking via a trending hashtag to raise public awareness and media focus on the benefits that a positive China-Australia FTA conclusion could achieve for the Australian dairy industry and the overall Australian economy.

This initiative has been embraced by the Australian agriculture community and National Farmers Federation and ramped up under an all-of-agriculture umbrella.

ADF is encouraging consumers and stakeholders to upload a photo of themselves (a.k.a. a “selfie”) holding a sign reading “#FTA4dairy” on social media, and including the campaign’s hashtag in their post as well “#FTA4farmers.”

MMM: Why is the FTA so important to dairy farmers and why should other Australians support it?

ADF: Signing a commercially meaningful FTA with China would allow the dairy industry realise its goals for growth. For a start, a “New Zealand plus” deal, one that is on terms or exceeds those of the deal that China signed with NZ in 2008, would deliver savings of at least $31.5 million, based on current China exports, as well as removing Australia’s competitive disadvantage with NZ.  With the application of NZ terms it would save the dairy industry a cumulative savings total of $630m over the period 2016 – 2025.

It would deliver additional jobs in the farming, dairy processing and manufacturing sectors as well as indirect employment in logistics and shipping.

MMM: Who are you trying to reach with this message and why?

ADF: ADF is trying to reach as many people as possible.  Anyone from the Australian dairy community – whether you are a dairy farmer, industry support group member, political representative, agriculture student, dairy supporter or everyday consumer, you can help! The further the reach, the more viral it will become.  To have a top ranking trending topic on Twitter/social media will raise general awareness of the importance of a positive China FTA as well as generate media interest in our message and campaign.

MMM: I’m sure the ADF will lobby politicians directly – why the social media campaign?

ADF: ADF is seeking to shake up the way usual advocacy is done – we’re pursuing a grassroots approach. We want to put the China FTA on the community’s radar and indirectly pressure the government by showing them the community is watching and listening. ADF stresses that this is a non-politically aggressive campaign, aiming to highlight the positives a good dairy deal could achieve for Australian and Chinese people alike.

MMM: How can people become involved?
It’s easy! Just jump online on Monday, 1st September and tweet/upload positive messages on social media with the hashtag #FTA4dairy.

We encourage you to take a #FTA4dairy ‘selfie’ holding a piece of paper which reads a short message in support of a positive China FTA outcome for dairy and upload this to social media using the #FTA4dairy hashtag.

ADF encourages you to grab a pen and paper, and hand write one of the following messages to feature in your #FTA4dairy selfie – you may also like to be creative and make up your own:
·      I support a dairy deal for our Aussie farmers #FTA4dairy
·        China FTA dairy deal = more Aussie jobs #FTA4dairy
·        China dining boom NEEDS Aussie dairy #FTA4dairy
·        Give Aussie dairy farmers the same chance as NZ #FTA4dairy
·        China FTA dairy deal = less tariffs, more savings #FTA4dairy
·        We need a great dairy deal from China FTA #FTA4dairy

If you don’t have a social media account simply email your ‘selfie’ to ADF: communications@australiandairyfarmers.com.au We’ll post it for you.

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The call of the farm speaks to so many

"Trough activated, Captain!"

“Trough activated, Captain!”

Alex was excited as he pulled on his boots this morning. He had full custodianship of the big Dolphin torch and lit our way through the paddock to open the gates in time for the cows.

With the gates open and the track diverted, Alex checked the operation of the trough, just as the sun’s glow lit the sky.

The Little Man is growing up with the call of the farm in his blood, something that makes him unusual for Australian kids these days, something that’s a real privilege.

He doesn’t realise it yet and I suspect many of the Year 8 students I met today don’t, either. Two DEPI experts and I were part of a panel drawn together to help inspire a new generation to follow their passions and keep learning all the way through life. A lofty aim that’s somewhat daunting, for it took two tragedies to find my way here.

During the questions that followed, one boy illuminated the elephant in the room: “Is it better to get a job you really like even if it pays badly or should you go for one that pays really well?”

For me the answer is clear. While Lynne Strong is undoubtedly correct when she writes that an adequate financial reward is key to seeing more young people return to agriculture, it’s not the only thing. Profits support a passion but rarely do they invoke one.

WinterValleyLoRes

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Filed under Community, Family and parenting, Farm

A lunchtime punt on the farm

What a wonderful day to go boating!

Unconventional boat launching, granted.

Unconventional boat launching, granted.

 

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leaned forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

“Simply messing…about in boats — or with boats… In or out of ‘em it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”

“Look here! If you’ve really nothing else on hand this morning, supposing we drop down the river together and have a long day of it?”
– Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Although my invitation for Wayne to unblock the effluent pond pipe was not quite so romantic as Ratty’s, it was a little more pressing.

All the manure that collects on the dairy yard while the cows are waiting to be milked is hosed away into ponds. This way, it can be reapplied to the paddocks where valuable nutrients are recycled rather than leaking into waterways.

Realizing we would run out of storage over winter, we had an extra pond excavated back in autumn. The system is now getting rather full but, still, the pipe from pond 2 to the new pond refuses to flow.

Damnation

Damnation: this should be a waterfall

We suspected the pipe was too long, buoyant and flexible, so the idea was to simply row in and saw some off. After a false start and some safety modifications (getting some hay band to stabilise the boat with an anchormaid) to the Good Ship Shi%, Wayne did just that.

Wayne wrestles with the Loch Macdonald monster

Wayne wrestles with the Loch Macdonald monster

The rotten thing still popped up defiantly above the surface. Another metre lopped off and it sank. Triumphantly, we waited for the water to flow. Nothing.

The next weapon in our armoury was a long piece of poly. Wayne thrust the two-inch down the throat of the pipe with all the courage of his Viking ancestors, daring a blockage to reveal itself. Four or five metres in – about where the two sections of pipe must join in the centre of the pond wall – it did.

Ah well, not every boating story has a happy ending, as Toad would attest. The next exciting episode will have to feature some serious yellow horsepower. Life on farm is never boring!

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The blueprint for NSW dairy

A week or two ago on Twitter, CEO of NSW dairy body Dairy Connect Mike Logan made an intriguing reference to a “blueprint for NSW dairy”. There’s only a limited amount you can learn from the 140 characters of a tweet, so I invited Mike to elaborate on Milk Maid Marian and here’s what he had to say:

Mike Logan, Dairy Connect CEO

Mike Logan, Dairy Connect CEO

In the NSW dairy industry the issue is that the value chain is not adding value at the farm gate. Since deregulation the farmers have descended from being strategic partners in the value chain, to an input that must be minimised.

Perhaps this is similar around the rest of Australia – I am not qualified to say. However, it is easy to assume that the dairy model in NSW is flawed as we watch our cousins across the ditch (dutch) grow their businesses, convert sheepmeat farms to dairy and build new kitchens. (The ‘New Kitchen Meter’ is a reasonable measure of success in agriculture.)

It is also easy for the NSW dairy industry to look at the New Zealand dairy industry and suggest we should emulate their model of ‘one big co-operative’. Without doubt that is the best model in the world at the moment. I call it the United Soviet Socialist Republic of Dairy (USSRD) and Barnaby Joyce says that Fonterra is a Maori word meaning ‘single desk’.

As much as we would like to, we shouldn’t emulate their model.

Firstly, because we can’t. The legislation required would make the current budget look easy. Between Clive Palmer and David Leyonhjelm it would be a nightmare.

Secondly, it is because we need to think about the next model after New Zealand. What is better than the USSRD?

Our current model of the value chain in NSW dairy seems to look a bit like this:
CurrentNSWdairymodel
Sort of messy eh?

The real problem with that value chain is that the farmer is held a long way from the representative of the consumer – otherwise known as the retailer. There are lots of ticket clippers, gatekeepers and a few value adders in the chain. There is not sufficient transparency and doubtful equity. The last person to make any money is the farmer.

So who is making the money?

Well, certainly the retailer. Here in Australia we have two of the three most profitable supermarkets in the world (Woolworths then Walmart then Coles/Wesfarmers).

Also the banks. The four most profitable banks in the Western world are right here. I needn’t name them. There are more profitable banks in China and Russia.

The distribution and transport sector is quite profitable. Linfox is not going out backwards.

Oddly, the processing sector in dairy is not making that much money. They are making more than the farm sector, but not an inordinate amount more. They only have about 25% of the capital invested when compared to the farm sector but they are mostly in control of the milk, its destiny and its value. They are the gatekeepers. The profit of the processors precedes the profit of the farmers.

So, what would a better model look like in NSW?

We suggest a value chain that is circular. We could call it a ‘value cycle’;

ValueCycle
The most important part of the value cycle is that the farmers and the retailers are side by side. The needs and values of the farmers and the supermarkets align. They align because the farmers have a secure supply of a high quality product and the supermarkets need a secure supply of a high quality product. Both want transparency and equity.

The first time I saw the value cycle work in NSW dairy was with the Woolworths Farmers’ Own brand and the group of seven dairy farmers in the Manning. The farmers were told by their processor that they couldn’t get any more money from the supermarkets for their fresh milk. They were told how tough it is dealing with the supermarkets. To their credit, the farmers took the challenge and decided to find out how tough it is to deal with the supermarkets.

The processor was half right. It is tough to deal with the supermarkets, but there was more money available. Both the supermarket and the farmers got what they needed because their values aligned. The system is transparent and equitable.

If that is right here in Australia, is it right in the export market?

Yes it is. Along with Norco and the logistics company Peloris Global Sourcing, the NSW dairy industry facilitated by Dairy Connect has developed contacts in the retail sector in China for the sale of fresh milk. Again, the milk is worth more with a direct deal with the consumers. The model does work.

It is easy to scoff at the volumes for fresh milk to China, I will tell you that they are small but they are invaluable.

If we can deliver albeit small volumes of fresh milk into the fastest growing dairy consumer market in the world at a profit by developing direct relationships with the supermarket sector in China, then what is next?

Can we develop those relationships to deliver other NSW dairy products without having to enter the export commodity circus that is mostly controlled by the USSRD?

Of course we can. The NSW dairy industry is actively seeking investment and partnerships with the Chinese retail sector to access the infant formula market. Again, the processors are right, it is tough. The farmers in the Manning too are right; it will bring value back to the farm gate.

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