How to grow Aussie dairy: vertical and horizontal integration

In last week’s post about what it will take to encourage dairy farmers to grow, I promised to follow up with some ideas. The first is a guest post from Ian Macallan, a project strategist and business architect who has operated in the Asia Pacific for over 30 years across a number of industries including dairy.

Whilst 97 per cent of Australian dairy farms are family-owned, there are smatterings of “corporate farming” that bring together large parcels of land and cows.

If left unchecked, this type of pure farm aggregation could swing to the extreme of looking like feudal farming, leaving no capacity for family dairy farming. These corporate farms are also still vulnerable to milk price fluctuations.
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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: Continue reading

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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? Continue reading

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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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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. Continue reading

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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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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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