Have Australian dairy farmers given up?

I know things have gotten tough for Australian dairy farmers but I’d hate to think of us as quitters. Still, as the Dairy Levy Poll roadshow tours the country, it seems a real possibility that in just a few weeks we will try to vote ourselves out of existence.

In just a few weeks, Australia’s dairy farmers will vote whether to increase the amount we pay in levies to research and development body, Dairy Australia, or have it abolished. I hate seeing any deduction from my milk cheque as much as the next farmer (believe me!) but I also know that I would not be farming here today without that Dairy Australia levy.

Twenty years ago, our farm looked greener but not all that different from the beef farm next door. Dad was more interested in his role as local councillor and, later, dancer and bushwalking pursuits than in making every blade of grass count. And he could afford to. Farming was more profitable then and his debt level was low.

One divorce and a drought later, things changed. Faced with a suddenly massive monthly interest repayment, it’s fair to say Dad’s initial response was to panic. He lost two stone off his already very slender frame, considered selling the farm and then sought help. His decision to enrol in a Dairy Australia levy funded Target 10 course and to seek the advice of farm consultant, John Mulvany, saved the farm.

Productivity soared as a rotational grazing system offered cows fresh, high quality grass every day. Dad also confessed a new enthusiasm for farming. After 50 years on the job, he was learning again. He then embarked on just about every DA funded course he could find: Feeding Dairy Cows, Fertilising Dairy Pastures, Feeding Pastures For Profit, Countdown Down Under and Cow Time are just some of the handbooks he left behind.

Today, my interest repayments are even higher than Dad’s and farm margins are even tighter but with the latest know-how, I will make it.

Australian dairy farmers have become some of the lowest paid in the world. That stinks but it’s the reality. If we are going to survive, we need to be smarter than the rest. And if we don’t vote for investment in the very research that keeps us going, can we really expect the Australian taxpayer to help? I think not.

If you want to send a message to the bureaucrats, ring them up and tell them you’re not happy. I do. But I’ll never tell them I’ve given up and that’s why I will vote yes.

4 Comments

Filed under Community, Farm

4 responses to “Have Australian dairy farmers given up?

  1. Hey Marian, just wondering if selling to a different outlet is an option for many dairy farmers? I mean direct to a small cheese maker, or some of the urban direct selling milk producers? Is it just more work, would you have to do on farm processing?

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    • milkmaidmarian

      Hi Beeso,
      Sorry for the confusion. We don’t actually sell to Dairy Australia. This body’s role is R&D and the promotion of dairy.

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  2. Yeah I understood that, but it seems that you have done everything you can to maximise profits on the production side and you are being squeezed on the processor side, so to get more profit do you have to become processors?

    Once upon a time it looked like the big 2 breweries would own the market but now there are a whole heap of small breweries making money.

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    • milkmaidmarian

      Oh more apologies to you, then Beeso! I’m no economist but I don’t think the problem is with the processors. I and thousands of other dairy farmers send our milk to a 100% farmer-owned co-op to help keep them honest. I think the problem is at the market end of the equation.

      Victorian dairy farmers export around half of our milk (as powder and other ingredients) and are subjected to the volatility of the exchange rate and international commodity prices. Other states, like Queensland, don’t have the same manufacturing clout and are reliant on fresh milk sales to retailers like Coleworths, which is why the Down, Down, Down campaign has hit them so cruelly.

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