RUOK day and the SSM test for people like me


I tweeted yesterday that I had voted “yes” for same sex marriage because who others love is none of my business.

I am sure of that but I made the mistake of thinking the same sex marriage survey was all about LGTBI people. A call from another Gippsland dairy farmer set me straight. It’s about us.

Like gay and lesbian couples, dairy farmers are a minority group. When $1 milk arrived in 2011, I started this blog, frustrated that few Australians seemed to understand why it mattered; why we deserved a fair go.

But there is a difference. The bullying, abuse and vicious attacks LGBTI people often endure is foreign to me. On the contrary, ordinary Australians with no connection to farming whatsoever put their hands in their pockets to buy branded milk during the dairy crisis. Because they understood that everyone deserves a fair go.

The impact of the dairy crisis lingers but, today on RUOK Day, yes, I am okay. And, for that, I owe something to the support of everyday Australians who showed they cared.

The SSM survey cannot test the validity of anyone’s love. It is a test for ordinary Australians like me who expect a fair go. Will we rise to the challenge and return same the respect and tolerance for others that we demand for ourselves?


Code of conduct vs contracts


The newly released Code of Practice has been promoted as industry working together to restore trust and confidence. It’s a step in the right direction but, as it stands, the Code brings little comfort for three reasons:

  1. Apart from a few tweaks around the edges, it preserves the status quo;
  2. Other than being labelled “very naughty”, there are no penalties for flaunting it; and
  3. It doesn’t apply anyway when processors demand new suppliers sign an individual contract. Easy!

Welcome improvements achieved by the code
Don’t get me wrong: the tweaks achieved by the code are welcome and important, especially these:

  • “Any downward changes to such adjustments (or adjustment calculations) cannot be made unless the dairy farmer has been given 30 days’ written notice…”
    In the heat of May 2016, Fonterra initially gave us minus 5 days’ notice. Thirty days would have allowed farmers to make better decisions under far less pressure.
  • “A farmer is entitled to all accrued loyalty and other payments where they have supplied to the end of a contract term, irrespective of whether they remain a supplier post a contract expiry.”
    This will make a difference because, while it effectively continues to reinforce at least a one-year term, farmers are free to switch processors afterwards without missing out on payments that could otherwise take months to arrive.
  • “Where a farmer has a contract with a processor and wishes to expand their production and a processor does not want to purchase the additional milk under the same contractual terms and conditions, the contract between the farmer and processor must allow the dairy farmer to supply the additional milk to other processors.
    This clause will apply if the primary processor is prepared to take milk in addition to the contracted volume at a lower price.”
    This aims to prevent the dreadful Tier 1 vs Tier 2 milk situation seen in fresh milk states like NSW for those on standard form contracts.

Sadly, none of this will stop a savage price drop again and farmers are still pretty much forced to sell all their milk to a single customer for a full year without any guarantee of the price they will be paid.

It’s sad but true that, even with the improvements made by the Code, dairy farmers are at a horrendously unfair disadvantage to the processors who buy our milk.

A Code with no bite
The first thing I should say is that it is clearly not within the power of dairy farmer representatives to mandate this Code. Only our politicians can make laws.

It does mean, though, the that Code is something of a toothless, arthritic tabby at best. In fact, the worst that can happen to any processor who breaches the code is that suppliers can leave (if they can find new homes for their milk) and the processor is labelled a very naughty boy.

Frankly, the shameless behaviour on display over the past 18 months shows it’s pretty clear plenty of processors don’t give a damn what we think of them.

In a piece published by the Stock & Land, UDV President Adam Jenkins said:

“But it’s up to us, as dairy farmers, to take ownership and hold the processors to honouring all the provisions.”

Sounds great. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the power to do that. After all, that’s why a Code was developed in the first place!

Code vs contracts
The Code only applies to “standard form contracts” (those which are the same or similar for all suppliers) rather than the increasingly-common individual contracts.

Burra Foods CEO Grant Crothers spells it out neatly for suppliers in his June 27 blog post:

Mr Crothers is on record now saying that his contracts comply with the Code. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t comment on whether the clause below contravenes the Code’s insistence that “…no changes should ever be made retrospectively…” but can well understand why some dairy farmers are concerned it does.


At any rate, simply moving from standard form to individual contracts provides an easy work around for processors not keen on meeting the terms of the Code.

The Code provides a starting point
While the Code is not the solution to all our woes, at least we now have a list of basic expectations regarding the way processors treat farmers. But I couldn’t put it better than Adam Jenkins himself, when he wrote: “…while the code is in itself a great achievement of the dairy industry, the real challenge will be ensuring that it is enforced”.

The Code is a foundation for other measures that will restore confidence to invest. Let’s hope there’s another few rounds in the locker to come.


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.

Dairy love and why it’s lacking on St Valentine’s

“Imagine you decided to stay and defend your home from a bushfire, while your neighbour flees.”

“You save your home but the mental scars are deep.”

“Your neighbour’s place is burnt to the ground and sympathy floods in for the family and, in time, they move into a beautiful new home.”

This was the scenario clinical psychologist Rob Gordon put to me explaining why rifts often open in any community after a disaster. He pointed out that because everyone’s experience of a disaster is different, misunderstanding and resentment brew under the pressure of recovery.

I’ve seen it in dairy social media forums. While thousands of farmers are finding ways to support each other on forums like the Show Some Dairy Love Facebook page, there are some cranksters out there who need to kick heads.

I’ve felt the heat of that anger first-hand, ironically from a non-farmer, who says I was one of those with a secretive “special deal” shielded from the infamous claw-back, accusing me of having no morals.

The truth is that, in May 2015, I had chosen to sign up for one of Fonterra’s “risk management products” available to all suppliers. It meant the price for 70 per cent of our milk during the 15/16 financial year bobbed about in a range with upper and lower limits.

Sure, we would have missed out badly if prices did get to MG’s much-vaunted $6.05kgMS forecast close but it felt like good insurance.

When Fonterra cut its price in May 2016, the price for 70 per cent of our milk dropped to its floor. The remaining 30 per cent tumbled the whole way down.

Lots of people were much worse off than we were. Others were much better off.

That’s the thing. Just like a bushfire, the milk crisis has affected everyone differently. So many factors come into play, like:

  • the size of your farm,
  • the time of year your cows calve,
  • which processor your farm supplies,
  • whether you have/had a contract, and
  • which stage your business is at.

On top of all this, there is loyalty and trust.

Hundreds of farmers swapped processors for the first time in years or decades. For many, it was a matter of survival. Others have not been able to switch and some consider leaving the last big co-op nothing short of treacherous desertion.

Add to all this that farmers have now been battling to pay bills for 10 months (actually, a lot longer if you were in one of the drought-affected regions) and it’s not surprising that people are feeling rather cranky, to say the least.

To make matters worse, change for the better seems an aeon away. The senate, ACCC and ASIC inquiries have revealed little to date, other than that the unrepentant Helou had not been interrogated.

I’m spending St Valentine’s Day at the Gippsland ACCC farmers’ forum. I hope that out of this comes a bit of the dairy love we all need.



Farmers finally get our chance


A once in a lifetime opportunity to sort out the whole damn dairy mess we’ve all taken for granted for so long is coming to town. The ACCC wants to meet you, dear dairy farmer. Not the men in suits – you. If you can’t get to one of the forums or find the time to write an email, that’s okay because they’ll even take calls from the tractor cab on 03 9290 1997. Just do it.

Why? After last year’s debacle, we shouted from the rooftops that the system stank. For once, people listened. Average Aussies dug deeper at the supermarket to help us. And, now, the regulator is asking us exactly what the problem is and what needs to change. We can’t fall silent now. Would anyone ever take us seriously again?

We deserve a system where:

  • the risk in the supply chain is shared fairly by processors and farmers;
  • the farmer is free to sell his or her milk based purely on its virtues on an open market;
  • processors act independently of their competitors;
  • there is trust and transparency in all dealings; and
  • farms big and small are treated fairly.

This stuff is pretty basic in other industries and it’s far bigger than the behaviour of MG and Fonterra (the regulator is looking into that separately). It’s about the way the entire dairy sector ticks and how we are paid for our milk.

It may just be the closest we will get to spelling out and solving the problems that ruined lives. Don’t let others decide our futures. This time, the ACCC means business  but it needs your input.

The ACCC dairy forums will be held at:

  • Monday 6 February 2017 – Toowoomba, Qld
  • Tuesday 7 February 2017, 12pm–2pm – Club West, Taree, NSW
  • Tuesday 14 February 2017– Traralgon, Vic
  • Monday 27 February 2017 – Warrnambool, Vic
  • Tuesday 28 February 2017 – Shepparton, Vic
  • Thursday 16 March 2017 – Bunbury, WA
  • Monday 20 March 2017 – Hahndorf, SA
  • Wednesday 22 March 2017 – Burnie, Tas

Go if you can, email or call 03 9290 1997 and ask for Amy Bellhouse. All the details are at the ACCC dairy inquiry website.

We’re all in this together


“We’re all in this together” was the message on the invitation. How true.

So, on Saturday night, around 200 locals enjoyed a “Night on the Green” sponsored by the UDV. As the kids romped on jumping castles or chased each other with balloon swords, the grown-ups took the chance to unwind and regroup after a torrid 18 months. And it didn’t matter where you send your milk.

Among the farmers at the Night on the Green were Paul and Lisa Mumford, who just days earlier had opened their farm, their books and their hearts to visitors. The pair are well-respected and volunteering to make their business a Focus Farm brings a level of scrutiny most would find daunting: everything is on show, right down to their most revealing financials.

The husband and wife team were in equal parts honest, humble and inspiring as they answered questions about their aspirations and challenges. We’ll all learn a lot from Paul and Lisa because they’re so generous with their knowledge.

And, on Sunday, a group of about 10 local Landcarer friends spent a morning doing something for one of our own. Kaye is my Landcare heroine. For years now, she has been the backbone of our group, giving away thousands of trees and coordinating our mob of volunteers to great effect. A long bout of illness meant Kaye’s magnificent garden needed a tidy up. What an opportunity to show her we cared!

This is what community is all about. We’re all in this together! Merry Christmas!

What MG’s announcement means in plain English

This is a post written purely for my fellow dairy farmers in light of the MG announcement today. After speaking with the people at MG, this is what I have learnt:

Why the price must fall
MG opened at $5.60/kgMS. Its lower than expected sales, the rising Australian dollar and the fall in the value of its larger than normal (which are routinely high anyway) inventories mean it has a shortfall of between $170 and $200 million. This means the price paid to farmers must fall.

How far the price must fall
Depending on how the last two months of this financial year pan out in terms of sales and exchange rates, Murray Goulburn will finish the season between $4.75 and $5.00.

But the price can’t fall that far in two months…
To do that, it would need to pay farmers virtually nothing for milk supplied in May and June. Some rough numbers sent to me by an industry analyst puts those figures at about 4.75 cents per litre. Clearly, that would be disastrous for many suppliers. It would also cripple MG because farmers would have little choice but to leave MG and supply any other processor that would take their milk.

…so, here’s what will happen
MG will pay farmers for milk supplied in May and June as if the price was $5.47 all along. In other words, the price for May milk will be $3.38 for fat and $7.42 for protein. For June’s milk, it will be $3.45 for fat and $7.59 for protein.

If MG’s sales and the currency fall in line with the worst case scenario and MG really should have paid farmers just $4.75 for the year, it will mean there is a shortfall of 47 cents for every kilogram of fat and $1.03 for every kilogram of protein.

This money will be deducted from the price paid to farmers evenly over the next three years. It means the milk price will be lower for each of the next three years than it otherwise would have been by about 15 cents for fat and 34 cents for protein.

But it’s NOT a debt carried by individual farmers
The money to be deducted over the next three years will simply come out of the milk price. If a farmer leaves MG and moves to a different supplier during the next three years, no debt will follow that farmer. If a farmer joins MG in the next three years, that farmer will have a lower milk price than they would have received in a normal year.

MG will not apply a loan against an individual supplier and will not respectively apply terms and conditions to suppliers.

About this post and me:
I am a former MG supplier who still holds some MG shares and currently supply Fonterra Australia. This post is not designed to do anything other than clarify confusion surrounding the situation because I am fearful for the mental health of my fellow farmers. This post has been checked by MG for accuracy.



What does dry mean to you?



Watching the sun rise behind the War Memorial yesterday, I had a sudden realisation: there is no drought on the St Kilda Road boulevard.

For one of the few times since our children were babies, I was on my own in the city, gazing dreamily at the traffic, trams and people below the hotel balcony.

It occurred to me that if you were one of the people whose lives pulse with the number 8 tram from the heart of the city to leafy Toorak and back every day, you’d never know it was dry. You might catch Landline and wonder what all the cockies were whinging about this time.

Unless you were a gardener, of course. Or the volunteer caretaker of the local sports ground. Or a bushwalker. Or, even, a concrete cowboy with a weekender on the Peninsula. Maybe you just had childhood holidays on an uncle’s farm that left you with a deep-rooted, almost subconscious, connection.

Actually, I realised, there are probably a lot of you speeding by down there who know and who care. I saw it in the comments following my plea for the CSIRO in The Guardian. There were so many who saw the same threats and shared the same hopes.

Others wondered aloud whether farmers were to blame for their own demise by voting for the National Party. I’m not sure but I suspect so many farmers do because we fear being forgotten in the city.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped emphasising the differences between city and country. I promise to work harder to weave my writing with threads common to us all.




Dairy advertising dilemmas

Meet Deb Poole, dairy farmer’s daughter and professional waterslide tester, and her husband/coach Gary. Incidentally, she fronts Dairy Australia’s latest appeal to “balanced mums”, like me.

“People look at me and they see an ordinary woman. But what they don’t know is that I’m a…ah…pretty intense waterslide tester and there’s nothing ordinary about it.” – Deb Poole

Deb and Gary’s appearances were slotted in around the top-rating Molly miniseries.

Unsurprisingly, not all of the 6,000 or so dairy farmers whose levies pay for DA’s marketing are delighted with the ad and took to social media this week to vent their spleen. A board member of peak body Australian Dairy Farmers, Tyran Jones, was just one of them.


In the face of such criticism, it’s important there’s transparency and accountability around what must be a significant investment of levy-payer’s funds. So, I asked Dairy Australia’s marketing team to answer some questions about the campaign and veteran ad creative, Rod Clausen of Red Creative for an independent expert’s take on the ad (his thoughts follow below). DA’s Isabel MacNeill was quick to respond.

MMM: What are the objectives of the campaign and who is the target audience?
The overall marketing objectives are to: 

  • Improve perceptions of dairy products and the industry
  • Decrease the percent of women who agree “I’m concerned dairy foods will increase my weight”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “dairy foods are essential for good health and wellbeing”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “I trust the dairy industry”
  • Increase proportion of women who make an effort to consume enough dairy.

Currently, 8 out of 10 Australian adults don’t consume their recommended serves of milk, cheese and yoghurt each day as advised by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Research shows, while consumers generally believe it’s okay to enjoy dairy (as it is relatively natural and healthy), they see it as something they should have in moderation. With new dairy alternatives claiming to offer a healthy choice and a plethora of fad diets generating confusion, mums and women have become uncertain about dairy’s essentiality in the diet.

Dairy Australia, through its consumer marketing program, aims to positively influence attitudes and perceptions around dairy. If attitudes towards dairy’s essentiality in the diet track positively then it can be anticipated that this will hold up consumption behaviours and/or drive increased consumption.

The key target audience is “Balanced Women”, (with a specific focus on mums with children between 5-12 years), who take a practical approach to food, with “everything in moderation”.

With the unifying tagline: “It’s amazing what dairy can do“, the current campaign, which has been specifically created to appeal to women, will reinforce the benefits of having dairy every day to women, who are searching for the best health and wellbeing choices for themselves and their family.

MMM: We’ve seen the waterslide ad aired during Molly. Are there other elements to the campaign?
IM: The television commercial is part of a much broader marketing program. ‘It’s amazing what milk can do’ combines a range of awareness building advertising that will run nationally, combining television, print, radio, mobile and on-line executions.

To coincide with the campaign launch, February was renamed ‘Februdairy’ across a range of Australia’s most popular magazines, with titles including Australian Women’s Weekly,

An extensive range of promotions is also planned including a media partnership with the Logies and the announcement of new Legendairy Ambassador, Chef and TV personality, Karen Martini, who will join Michael Klim as public supporters of the Australian dairy industry.

Dairy Australia is partnering with this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Hub from 4-13 March, which will see the creation of an interactive ‘Urban Dairy’ presented by
Legendairy. The Urban Dairy provides the opportunity right in the middle of the city to bring the industry to life, from show casing producers to highlighting the quality of Australian dairy products.

The Legendairy media activity has been planned in consultation with dairy manufacturers and allows the overall category to benefit by linking in to media buying cycles of the major brands. The launch activity for Legendairy will focus on broadcast and high reaching media channels rather than more targeted health and wellbeing spaces.

MMM: What was the rationale for the creative approach?
IM: Recent quantitative research has told us women are likely to consume more milk, cheese and yoghurt when they understand it is:

  • Rich in nutrients, such a protein and calcium;
  • Good for maintaining and building bones and muscles; and
  • It provides natural nutrition

To cut through the increasing ‘nutrition noise’ and deliver these messages, we required a creative approach that was disruptive. Being noticed is key; and creating fun characters is extremely powerful when it comes to getting people talking, sharing messages, and eventually changing behaviours.

Formulative research told us that the creative concepts and corresponding characters developed as part of the ‘It’s amazing what dairy can do’ campaign were appealing to our primary audience, in the same way that the character of ‘Rhonda’ cut through for AAMI.

The concept centres on women who do real, but very unique occupations, and the unifying factor is that dairy makes this possible. Memorable characters have been developed, such as Deb Poole the waterslide tester, who relies on the unique combination of nutrients in milk to give her energy and strength to perform her job. By using humour in a documentary style approach, we hope to engage consumers emotionally through entertainment, while delivering rational messages about dairy through the story.

Because the reasons and barriers to consume milk, cheese and yoghurt differ between products, as do usage behaviours and consumption occasions, the creative executions will be targeted around milk, cheese and yoghurt, rather than dairy as a category.

MMM: The waterslide ad has been accused of portraying milk drinkers as stupid. Was this considered by Dairy Australia?
IM: People like to be entertained and like characters with personality. Humour helps us create a natural affinity with the audience – ordinary Australians. By using humour, we’re saying, ‘we’re one of you, Australia’.

Deb is an ordinary mum of three. She may have an unusual job, but she is just like one of us. She is relatable, in her very unpretentious way and because of her very simple values she is inspiring.

The tone is humorous and down to earth. Milk is a very basic down to earth product and the tone helps remind us about the good, simple, healthy values milk stands for. It’s the ordinary things in life that are sometimes the most special, they can even be Legendairy.

Our research on the concepts show the campaign style and messages resonated with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food.

MMM: How are creative concepts assessed by Dairy Australia during the selection process?
The creative process was concept tested with the target audience. The research showed the campaign style and messages resonate with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food. Key outtakes from the research were:

  • “Broad appeal of idea for most, with family focus or message and context appearing to drive connection and engagement.”
  • “Quirkiness and uniqueness felt to be distinctive for the category, and create talkability.”
  • “Implied ‘elite athlete’ status considered very funny.”

MMM: What is Dairy Australia’s budget for consumer advertising and media this year?
The consumer advertising and media budget is approximately $3.4M for this year. This is for all production and media placements across TV, radio, magazine and digital channels.

MMM: How does Dairy Australia gauge success?
We set clear KPIs for our marketing program each year which we track and report on. These include attitudes and perceptions of dairy foods and the industry that we aim to shift.

In addition to the annual tracking, we recently commissioned baseline research with our target audience to establish awareness of the key messages that will be delivered through the milk campaign. We will test them again in six months’ time to see if there has been cut through and uptake of our messages through the campaign.

MMM: Will evaluative metrics be available to levy payers?
Yes. Dairy Australia reports on its marketing metrics through the annual report each financial year.

You can download Dairy Australia’s 2015 annual report here. The only reference I could find to the effectiveness of DA’s mass media advertising was this one on page 54:

“Mass media advertising delivered through television, digital and outdoor channels maintained awareness, but was limited to one major burst due to significantly smaller budgets. Digital advertising ran from February – April 2015, achieving 20.7 million views. Last year’s popular multivitamin television commercial was updated to include the Start and End Your Day With Dairy call to action airing on prime time television, reaching 1.4 million mums at an average frequency of 7.6 times. Outdoor advertising saw 641 billboards featured in bus shelters across metro areas nationally, strategically located around schools, shops and retail centres.”

Unfortunately, the number of people who watched an ad is no gauge of its effectiveness, so this is very disappointing. The good news is that there were much more encouraging measures of other DA marketing activities.

So what did independent expert, Rod Clausen of Red Creative think of the waterslide ad?

RC: “Interesting ad. Creatively I like the ‘Chris Lilley’ style documentary approach and the professional waterslide tester story. It’s definitely entertaining and it’s got reasonable cut through. I ran it past a few of the target audience and it makes people smile.

“I have to admit if I was a Dairy Australia levy payer, the long version of the ad (the back story) would make me cringe. Especially with Deb being portrayed as the ‘slightly thick’ daughter of a dairy farmer. I’m sure this is meant to make her character appear down to earth and resonate with the average mum. But I can see how this would be seen as a negative stereotype, particularly if you were part of the industry. Do I think viewers will take this away from the ad? Not really, I don’t think people analyse ads that deeply. In any case, her husband is from the city and he’s also a bit of a ‘plonka’. 

“Do I remember the benefits of milk or that it’s essential for health and wellbeing? I get that protein and calcium gives me strong bones and that’s definitely the take out people get, even if it is buried amongst the entertainment. The 30sec version of the ad does push the product benefits – Phosphorous, Riboflavin, Vitamin A and four more. And the 15sec promotes nutrients, simple and natural. Presumably these ads are meant to build on and reinforce the original story and push more the rational benefits. They are a good reminder, but they’re not telling me anything I didn’t already know. So I don’t think it will change perceptions or increase the proportion of women who make an effort to consume more dairy.

“I can’t help comparing this ad with the ‘Anchor Dairy – the journey to beautiful milk’ film I saw when I was researching this piece. If I was looking to improve perceptions of dairy products and portray the industry as innovative – this film really hits the spot – even if is answering a different brief. To be fair it also doesn’t have the entertainment value of Legendairy Deb. It’s a catch-22. Be more entertaining and you get slammed for not talking about product benefits. Focus on the rational benefits and no-one takes it in.

“In a nutshell, Legendairy Deb is more entertaining than informative. It says milk is good for active people and will make me strong – which is true, but nothing new. It’s not improving my perception of the dairy industry or milk. But it’s not detracting from it either. Do I think mums will take the message seriously and consume more milk? – I’m not sure. But with $3.4 million worth of media spend behind it they are bound to get the key messages. Time will tell. We won’t know its true effectiveness until the usual tracking reports are done after the campaign.”

But how many farmers will consider the tracking reports, if they are indeed available? With this in mind, I asked Isabel one final last-minute question yesterday afternoon.

MMM: When you were testing the consumer facing ads – were they also tested on farmers?

IM: Our advertising campaign is directed at balanced mums, and last year we conducted qualitative and quantitative research to understand the key barriers and opportunities to promote consumption of dairy products.

These insights have been used to develop the campaign approach. The creative concepts were also tested with the balanced mums by a specialist agency prior to production.

While famers are our most important stakeholders we didn’t  test creative with them as the campaign has a very defined audience.

We did of course present the creative concepts to the DA board (where there are a number of farmers) and also the marketing teams of the major dairy processors.

To me, this answer gets to the very heart of the problem. As every advertising suit knows only too well, no concept – however brilliant – flies without client approval. And in this case, there are 6,128 clients sprinkled across Australia. In this respect, it seems DA has not learned from Devondale’s infamous “Dev ‘n Dale” campaign. Farmers may not be advertising experts but DA can ill afford to put them offside.

Perhaps, just perhaps, DA could add one more element to its ad agency brief: your creative pitch must remember the dignity of the farmer and test its appeal to this other vital audience because dairy farmers are the ultimate client and they have TV’s too.

The new golden child in Australian dairy: corporate farming


Australian dairy farmers have long been compared to our Kiwi big sisters.

You might imagine the comparisons would highlight the resilience of Aussie farmers who cope with much tougher climates (three weeks with scant rainfall is considered a drought in NZ) and less bountiful soils. But, sadly, no, it’s generally been along the lines of a disappointed parent.

“If only Australian dairy farmers were more like the Kiwis”.

But, as the cost of producing a litre of milk in the naturally blessed New Zealand has risen close to that of Australia, big sister has lost some of her charm. The new golden child is Big Brother: the corporate farmer.

The corporate farm is very attractive to everyone who describes themselves as “in agribusiness”. It borrows big, spends big, supplies big and is built on the promise of rivers of white gold that can be tapped by anyone with a spare dollar (whether or not they have an aversion to muddy boots). Freed from the constraints of traditional farming, they push the system hard for maximum shareholder return.

And, if it crashes, well, what the heck? It was worth a crack. The carcass is licked clean, everyone dusts themselves off and goes back to what they were doing before, digging up iron ore or whatever it takes to fund a spin on the roulette wheel.

Should we be concerned? Honestly, I’m not sure. If large dairy farms are held by patient investors, they can tick all the right boxes, since cow care, environmental responsibility and the welfare of workers all make business sense in the long term.

I just hope those lured by all the hype remember that dairy farming is a complex, volatile business and the returns may be neither instant or constant for, if it’s all about turning a quick buck, things can turn ugly very quickly indeed.