Meet the dairy farmers aspiring to the DA board room

You’re about to meet Lisa Dwyer and Michael Spitse. In weeks, one of them will be among the most powerful dairy farmers in Australia, occupying a spot on the Dairy Australia board.

Milk Maid Marian invited the pair to answer four questions and Lisa was first off the blocks to respond, with a video as well as her written answers. 

1. Lisa, tell us about you, how you farm and your roles outside the farm
Lisa Dwyer: Despite starting out from scratch only 10 years ago, my husband Eddie, son Harvey and I were lucky enough to find a dairy farm near Macarthur in south-west Victoria that matched our rather modest budget. We now run 850 acres, milking a ‘multi-cultural’ herd of 280 cows as well as a beef and export enterprise.

I am also a non-executive director with LiveCorp, chairman of WestVic Dairy, member of the Australian Animal Husbandry Steering Group, member of the Victorian Government’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, immediate past chairman of the Australian Milk Quality Steering Group and fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.

2. Which issues are farmers asking you to address if you are elected to the DA board?
Lisa Dwyer: Striking a better balance between the needs of different types of dairy businesses in different regions is definitely an area where we need to focus. I would like to support farmers in accessing the latest knowledge so that we can make better decisions that will deliver higher returns (better use of feed, improved people, business and risk management and animal performance, especially with respect to breeding and mastitis) but also to support those leading-edge dairy businesses that require a different level of support to assist their unique growth needs.

3. What will be your focus to help dairy at the on-farm level?
Lisa Dwyer:
There is of course no end to the things that DA could invest in. Every dairy region and every dairy business across Australia has its unique issues but there is one that is common to everyone – getting more dollars into farmer’s pockets. My focus will be to identify real priorities that will deliver this and then to concentrate on getting those results in a manner that gives us the best return on the levies we pay.

 4. Which industry-level issues do you consider most pressing?
Lisa Dwyer: The issues of milk price and market volatility are front and centre for everyone involved in dairy but they remain beyond both the control and direct responsibility of DA.   DA can however, support us through providing the right tools, resources, knowledge and know-how to farm successfully in spite of the inevitable challenges. All of us that make up the Australian dairy industry must work together in supporting where our industry is going rather than where it has been. We, as farmers depend upon it.

 

Michael Spitse’s answers are hot off the press this morning.

Michael Spitse

Michael Spitse

1. Michael, tell us about you, how you farm and roles outside the farm
Michael Spitse: I immigrated from The Netherlands in 1998 together with my wife Shirley. We wanted to go dairy farming after we finished the Agricultural University and in The Netherlands we had no such opportunity. We started on a small dairy farm in the South West of Victoria, in Gorae West and in 2003 we bought an irrigated large scale dairy farm in Nullawarre. We run the farm with six equivalent full time staff. Outside the farm, my family comes first.

2. Which issues are farmers asking you to address if you are elected to the DA board?
Farmers are not always seeing the relevance of certain R&D projects and how the results will benefit their business. Duplication of R&D within the wider dairy industry is a concern. The Newgate Review (Review into Farm Sector Representation in Australia) is highlighting this same issue.

3. What will be your focus to help dairy at the on-farm level?
At the on-farm level, I think the focus of Dairy Australia needs to be restricted to a smaller range of business objectives.

4. Which industry-level issues do you consider most pressing?
The inability of our industry to grow our farm business and subsequently to produce more milk. Availability of good labour is an issue that will become more and more pressing as our farms grow. These issues are also identified in at the 2014 National Dairy Summit: human capacity, farm business fitness, social licence-public trust, a competitive value chain, market growth and a cohesive dairy industry, which I support.

A big thank you to both candidates for answering Milk Maid Marian’s questions! The DA vote will be held on November 28 at the Dairy Australia AGM in Melbourne.

10 thoughts on “Meet the dairy farmers aspiring to the DA board room

  1. I would like to see more about the care of the cows and the quality of their lives, which I believe could also be used in your marketing to increase the price of milk and returns to farmers. Are there any serious advocates for these issues in the industry? Or are the only moves to reduce the quality of the life for the cows? I would like a response if possible as I love dairy products and would not want to choose to omit them from my diet for ethical reasons.

    Thank you

    • Hi Melisse,

      I don’t think anyone wants to compromise the care of the cows. You can probably gather from the cowmedians in Lisa’s video that they’re pretty relaxed!

      Seriously, though, yes, there are whole sections of the dairy hierarchy dedicated to animal care. I’ll be attending a workshop in the next week or so on just that topic.

      Cow care is the foundation of every good dairy farm.

    • Hello Melisse, thank you for taking the trouble to post a reply.

      At our farm, the welfare of our cows and calves is central to everything we do. It is a focus that is never compromised and forms the key responsibility for all who work with us. We spend a lot of time ensuring that our cows and calves are well nourished, have shelter, live and are managed in a calm environment and that any adverse health issue is addressed immediately.

      Our cows aren’t just cows, they’re our colleagues!

  2. Both look like fantastic candidates, pity you can’t choose both.
    From an outsider’s perspective I’d be interested in what each candidate (and DA in general) plans to do to assist dairy farmers cope/adapt/respond to climate change.

    • Hi Ian, thanks for raising this important issue. As a dairy farmer, I understand the important role that we can play, both from the perspective of an individual dairy farming business and as a part of a much larger $13b farm, manufacturing and export industry.

      I consider that as a farmer, we are environmental caretakers and the following highlight some of the improvements that our industry has been committed to achieving –

      40% of dairy farms have a renewable energy system (e.g. solar)
      72% have fenced off some or all waterways to protect river health
      47% have some level of irrigation automation for more efficient water use
      47% manage part of their land for biodiversity conservation.

      From the perspective of minimising our environmental impact, our Sustainability Framework (http://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/Industry-information/Sustainability/Industry-sustainability.aspx) describes out industry’s goals for 2020, which includes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 30%.

      If you would like to explore what we’re up to, you might find the Climate Toolkit insightful http://frds.dairyaustralia.com.au

      I also understand that current work by Dairy Australia includes climate change adaptation RD&E such as investment in a Bureau of Meteorology research project to improve seasonal forecasting, the Dairy Businesses for Future Climates project (website is being finalised) and identification of genetic markers for heat stress tolerance. Dairy Australia is also focusing on building business management skills which is the recommended strategy to build capacity to manage climate risk.

      I have also included a relevant newsletter that you might be interested in http://www.dairyingfortomorrow.com/uploads/documents/file/DfT%20newsletters/DfT%20newsletter%2025%20June%202014.pdf

      I hope that this has been helpful Ian and thanks again for your interest!

  3. Hi Ian, thanks for your question. For dairy farmers to have a sustainable business, we need to adapt and reduce our environmental impact.
    We need to keep investing in new projects. Now there are many projects/programs up and running to improve our nutrient, land and water management and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But we need to make sure as many farmers as possible take up these programs.

    To be success full in implementing new management strategies and technology, I believe it has to be financial driven with incentives or reduced costs. Dairy farmers need to be fully informed about the incentives/grants available and how to qualify for them.

    Michael

  4. Here are some questions for Lisa and Michael, firstly, best of luck with your respective nominations to the board of Dairy Australia. It is a valuable and important peak body for the dairy industry.

    Given current global trade negotiations are mid-flight and dairy is in amongst them all, what is your position on the following specific to the current Australia-China negotiations:
    1. Only minor tariff reduction over a longer period of time for diary imports into China?
    2. Easing the access requirement of chinese labour into to Australia?
    3. The allowance for substantial increase of live dairy cow export to China?
    4. The increasing of direct investment from China to equal that of the USA and NZ from the current ~$250m to ~$1bn. (for example of the scale this would put buying VDL and Rushy Lagoon in Tasmania or Warrnambool Cheese and Butter or the entire Western Australia dairy production and processing sectors completely out of sight of regulators).

    I understand DA is neither a lobby group nor a political advocacy body but direct answers to the questions rather the deflection would be good as all the questions have a direct impact on DA and its paying members. Declining on the grounds of your replies possibly impacting your DA nomination is acceptable.

    In regards the current TTP trade negotiations do you have an opinion or view you are prepared to express here given non-dairy operators in Australia are helping develop dairy capability in most of these emerging markets that could undermine any long term value Australia derives from providing Australian dairy products to these lucrative growing consumer markets.

    • Dear Not Telling,

      Thank you for taking the interest and trouble to respond with these important questions. I have copied each question below, together with my response. Please also note that I am always more than happy to discuss dairy matters with farmers directly at any time.

      Given current global trade negotiations are mid-flight and dairy is in amongst them all, what is your position on the following specific to the current Australia-China negotiations:
      1. Only minor tariff reduction over a longer period of time for diary imports into China?

      Like many farmers I have been following this issue closely because the potential benefits if we get the right deal could be game-changing. The position the Australian dairy industry has worked hard for and one I support fully is a “New Zealand Plus” Free Trade Agreement for Australian dairy. We currently pay 10-15% on most key dairy products and if we were successful in obtaining a NZ equivalent, it would amount to savings of just under $590 million for the period 2016-25. If we could achieve this, I think it would help bring new confidence to our industry, strengthen Australia’s position in global dairy exports and provide new employment opportunities, many of which would be in regional and rural Australia.

      2. Easing the access requirement of chinese labour into to Australia?

      A key focus of the Federal Government during the current FTA negotiations has been getting access for Australian dairy products into China. The Government has made it clear, and it’s a position I support, that any change to employment access requirements would only be considered under special circumstances. Additionally, I understand that no foreign worker can come into Australia on less wages than their Australian counterparts which is fair and right.

      3. The allowance for substantial increase of live dairy cow export to China?

      In 2013-14 78,775 dairy heifers were exported from Australia. Although demand for Australian heifers to China is strong, other countries such as Russia and Pakistan are also important markets. The export of live dairy cattle to these markets is a very important component of many dairy farming businesses. Like every business, dairy farming is exposed to risk and the diversity that access to these markets brings, provides for greater security during times of inevitable milk price swings or climate extremes. Take a look as I have, to a recent ‘Outlook to 2020’ by Fonterra, which illustrates a demand growth of 7% and a supply growth of only 4% in China. China currently imports the equivalent of 10 billion litres of milk a year, which is more than the total of Australia’s national annual production. On that basis, it would appear that they will be chasing their tail for a long time.
      You may also be interested to hear this radio interview from last week regarding live dairy heifer exports. link http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-03/dairy-live-exports/5860120

      4. The increasing of direct investment from China to equal that of the USA and NZ from the current ~$250m to ~$1bn. (for example of the scale this would put buying VDL and Rushy Lagoon in Tasmania or Warrnambool Cheese and Butter or the entire Western Australia dairy production and processing sectors completely out of sight of regulators).

      It is my understanding that any purchase by a China State Owned Enterprise will still require approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board and that any such approval must be demonstrably in our national interest. This is an approach that I support whole-heartedly. I also believe that it would be entirely appropriate (and highly desirable) for there to be a representative from Australian agriculture on the Foreign Investment Review board.

      Thanks again for your interest,

      Lisa

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