I am not Farmer of the Year, just Ms Average Australian Dairy Farmer, with around 260 milkers doing a respectable 7000 litres each on 500 rain-fed acres. But the ground is shifting beneath my feet. Although family farms make up 98% of Australian dairy right now, the big corporates are moving in and moving people like me on.
What these figures don’t show is the rise of the “mega-dairy” across the globe: from Saudi Arabia and China through to California. Modern Dairy, mainland China’s largest, has more than 186,000 cows including almost 20,000 at a single facility (hard to call it a “farm”).
It had to happen here eventually, I guess, and it’s happening fast. Led by the Chinese, investors from around the world are snapping up Aussie family farms at a rate I couldn’t have imagined only a year ago. Here are just three in Victoria that spring to mind:
- European investors have 20 Victorian dairy farms under the umbrella of Ace Dairies
- The Chinese will majority own 25% of south-west Victoria’s milk supply via Linear Capital
- Then there’s the controversial Ningbo Dairies in Gippsland, which plans to fly 100,000 litres of fresh milk to China daily
A high-ranking dairy executive recently told me that our very average farm straddles a barbed-wire fence: it’s not one of the protected little European herds or one of the massive Californian or Chinese herds whose scale commands special treatment from suppliers and processors alike.
I think I’d better come up with a boutique dairy product sooner rather than later.