Dairy Australia directors need to roll up their sleeves


It’s sad to say but, clearly, Dairy Australia is scared of farmers.

I returned from a few hours in the paddocks to find screens and screens full of comments on Twitter from fellow farmers on the leaked DA email above.

It’s been explosive because DA is accused of protecting its own turf first rather than being transparent with and accountable to the farmers it serves and who pay compulsory levies to fund its operation.

Contrary to Barnaby Joyce’s wishful pronouncements, farmers are still in a world of pain and the DA levies amount to tens of thousands of dollars per year for many of us. It’s no surprise then, that the way DA spends farmer funds is highly scrutinised.

I’m a believer in the work DA does. The knowledge I’ve gained from DA programs has made an enormous difference to our farm and we’d be a lot worse off without it. But not everyone agrees.

Some farmers are even pushing hard for a halt to the DA levy, irate that the opportunity for a routine poll on whether the levy should be maintained, changed or scrapped altogether was passed up by a committee.

That committee had farmer members and the DA board has farmer members, too. You might think that something run by farmers for farmers would be great at communicating with farmers, but it’s not.

I’m embarrassed to say that, until I Googled them, I couldn’t even recall the names of DA’s long-standing farmer directors. And there are only one or two visible DA HQ staffers on Twitter. While DA maintains its silence, it’s hard to understand how it can accuse upset farmers of spreading misinformation.

It’s time DA’s farmer directors rolled up their shirt sleeves and had frank conversations right from the start. There was a time we had a director on Twitter who knew how to take the sting out of almost any issue by being ready to chat, quick to crack a joke and unfailingly real.

DA can never control the message but, if it wants farmer respect and understanding, it must first join the conversation.

6 thoughts on “Dairy Australia directors need to roll up their sleeves

  1. Marian – I think DA’s message in that email is spot on. It appears to be directed at DA staff and DA staff should not be commenting on whether or not there should be a levy poll. That is a farmer decision, not a DA decision. As for making sure they are aware of the discussions around the levy poll, they’d have to be mad not to be monitoring such discussions. I’m surprised they have put that in writing to anyone but in essence there is nothing particularly wrong with the content of the email. For farmers like me, who see a real value in what DA does for the industry, it is up to us to explain to other farmers how they could also benefit, not for DA to do that. Their energies should continue to be directed at providing valued assistance to farmers to be more profitable. That’s what we pay our levy for. If any farmer-directors on DA choose to comment, they should do so as farmers, not as DA representatives. Karrinjeet


    • Hi Karrinjeet,
      You make some great points but I disagree that it is up to farmers to communicate the value of DA. Yes, we should but I don’t think that means the farmer representatives leading DA can justify silence.

      So many farmers are still confused about the role of DA and others so angry about its direction, that a Brexit-style backlash against it is a real risk.

      In my view, only the farmers who lead DA can provide the assurance needed that it is still actively led by farmers for farmers.

      If I was the advisor who wrote the email, I would have penned almost identical advice knowing there were no DA farmer-leaders willing or able to speak. If, on the other hand, I had confidence in their ability to reach out, I might have urged them to say something along the lines of:
      “It would be inappropriate for DA to comment on the levy poll process because that is strictly a matter for farmers, who decide how the levy should be reviewed with a vote. DA’s role is to serve farmers and we respect that farmer vote.”


      • Marian – you’ve pretty much paraphrased what I said in my comment. And people like me are those that should be speaking out. I am a vocal critic of the things DA doesn’t do well (such as communication!) but I have been a farmer leader in the DA regional structure (RDP) and like others who have also been a part of that structure, know the enormous value DA provides to farmers. We are speaking up. Those who are currently part of the extended DA structure need to speak up also. And those who have benefitted from DA’s services; you are clearly one of those and have shown the courage to speak up, so good on you. The lack of understanding continues with some of the most vocal critics not even realising that the RDPs are part of DA. It’s a messed up industry! And I think your way of wording the email is much better than what was leaked! Whoever wrote that leaked communication needs some serious training in communication, in governance, and in common sense. Karrinjeet


  2. From an outsider’s perspective I find Dairy Australia produces some wonderful industry information in various formats however if I was asked what body of the dairy community do they represent, the dairy farmer certainly isn’t the first one that comes to mind in fact nor is it the second.

    They are not an advocacy group; they are not a group representing dairy farmers although there is highly likely some value they provide dairy farms;
    they are not a group representing the dairy processing community even though the Board of Directors is riddled with or related parties to members of the dairy processor community; they are not a pure research firm with deep analytics available to the dairy community members at large but do provide some of this at various macro-levels; they are not a project management house that provides expertise to members of the dairy communities to assist with initiatives although they do a bit of this here and there; they are not a negotiating or arbitrage group to help groups that need assistance in contract negotiations or contract mediation; they are not an environmental group that seek improvements in land management across the whole industry sector but have done some work in this space it seems; they are not an animal welfare organisation that seeks to offer improvements around animal welfare, herd management, bio-asset safety and protection or even genetic assessment & analytics; they are not a government body appointed to administer and monitor the industry.

    So what are they and who do they represent?

    To me the answer seems to be ” a bit of everything” to “anybody anywhere who wants what we offer” and yet their income source comes from quite specific sources through a well craft process where the only loser is the dairy farmer. The processor collects the levies from the farmer as a line entry deduction on the milk payment and keeps the actual funds for earning interest until such time as it is paid to Dairy Australia, some funding seems to come from government grants and there is also some funding that seems to come from ADIC (clearly a dairy process body).

    Looks like Dairy Australia has lost its identity or has become, through negligence, complacency or sheer greed for the need for funds, another body for the dairy processor world to control the information interchange about the dairy industry. Or as they say in media world it’s just another “you pay, we say” group with a fancy title.

    Maybe it is time for DA to review, revisit, cleanse itself and refocus and in this little corner of the world my view is your focus should be the dairy farmer and the dairy farming segment of the industry sector. Also consider using a real estate approach to collecting levies where it passes through the processor with zero cost or interest earnings and goes into a government trust for deployment to DA not through collecting processor financial process.

    I could be way off the mark but as I said that is a view as seen from the outside.


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