Dairy Australia chairman Jeff Odgers says restoring confidence industry’s biggest challenge

Ardmona dairy farmer Jeff Odgers became Dairy Australia chairman in November on the retirement of Geoff Akers.

Mr Odgers farms with his family, milking 700 cows in northern Victoria.

He moved to the region and bought a farm in 2001, shifting from Tasmania’s northwest where his family farmed for “several generations”. The family grew their first Murray region farm to 450 cows, ­before buying a second close by in 2014. This was the same time son Jonathan, 21, joined the family business.

Mr Odgers’s move into the Dairy Australia leadership position follows a “tumultuous” 18 months in the industry.

He said restoring confidence was the biggest challenge to creating a stronger industry.

“We all know we have come through a decade of not growing national production, but within that there are some fantastic stories of businesses that have been very successful and people that really enjoy dairying,” he said.

“(Farmers) understand and are probably reasonably confident that they know their own business, but we would like to see them more confident about the industry as well.”

He said Dairy Australia could help create confidence by providing tools for farmers to strengthen their businesses.

“A lot of farms you go on to, the farmers will say, ‘we can’t necessarily find the staff we need’, ‘how do I run better systems in terms of working with the people I have got?’ ” Mr Odgers said.

“I think (Dairy Australia) has done quite a bit of work in that space and that doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money but it creates stronger businesses.

“There are other times when technology or changes in a business require investment. As long as people can get the information they need, they will make the investment at a time of their choosing — when it suits their business. That’s our role to put things in front of people.”

He is no stranger to industry roles. He was a Murray Dairy director from 2006-12 and served as chairman of the regional development program for four years. Previously he sat on the Goulburn Water Services Committee. He is a ­director of the Australian ­Securities Exchange-listed Bega Cheese, moving across from Tatura Milk Industries when the organ­isations merged seven years ago.

Moving to the Murray Dairy region prompted him to ­become involved in the industry, “wanting to understand as quickly as possibly the dynamics of the best way to farm in the region”.

It was the enjoyment he ­derived from learning and “(helping) make a difference” with his Murray Dairy role that led him to the Dairy Australia board four years ago.

“I think that’s the thing about doing that sort of work regionally, you are in the community and you know a lot of the farmers who are doing a range of things within their businesses to improve them and find the next range of technology that will give them the productivity gains they need,” Mr Odgers said.

“(The DA chairman) is different … it is about national programs that work in a ­regional sense.

“I’ve still got the regional development program networks that I was fortunate to sort of garner as I worked at Murray Dairy.

“A critical part of our work is that relationship with the ­regions and understanding the regions in order to deliver as they need to.”

Buoyed by greater participation in Dairy Australia events — now 40 per cent of farms, a rise from 20 per cent — Mr Odgers said “hopefully our programs are hitting the mark”.

He spoke of farmers enjoying involvement with the Focus Farm project, discussing common issues while incorporating talk of finances and longer term business planning.

“I think farmers are always looking for what can give them the edge,” he said.

Mr Odgers said it advances in technology provided “real reason for optimism”.

For example, the DairyBio work at Hamilton where drones fly across 6ha to measure the pastures in six minutes as well as a project called Dairy Feed Base.

“It gives you the ability to better measure what’s going on within your systems and if you can measure then you can manage it,” he said.

Mr Odgers saw technology as a driving force in the next five to 10 years.

“Where you are not adopting technology you don’t get the productivity gains to stay relevant and ahead of the curve,” he said.

Other predictions include the trend of dairy businesses getting larger, but maintaining family equity “because we know that works”.

He also said greater skills would be needed in with the uptake of technology.


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