A perfect storm of political, trade and sustainability issues is brewing here in Australia and overseas.
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CRITICAL ISSUE: The workforce shortage is a critical issue for dairy farmers, so the dedicated agricultural visa for foreign workers announced by the federal government last week is good news.

At home, the battle lines for the next federal election will be drawn soon. Political parties will soon be preparing election platforms, so Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) is working to prepare a framework for member consideration.

Internationally, summits seeking changes to the global food system, an end to climate change and targets for regenerating biodiversity present both risks and opportunities to dairy farmers in the long term.

There is no doubt that the advocacy outcomes achieved in the next 12 months will be critical to the profitability and sustainability of dairy farmers. The task will require a strong sense of purpose and unity.

Purpose will not be a problem at ADF. The organisation is set to ink a new strategic plan with objectives for trade, farm innovation, the supply chain, dairy people and sustainability.

The priorities in this plan address current and emerging issues that dairy farmers care about. With a perfect storm of issues brewing, it seems timely to review the progress being made to manage a few of them.

New foreign worker visa a positive step

In terms of dairy people, the workforce shortage is a critical issue for dairy farmers. ADF’s view has long been that the dairy industry should be able to tap into migrants to fill specific job roles in the short term.

So, the dedicated agricultural visa for foreign workers announced by the federal government last week is good news. The visa will help resolve temporary workforce shortage issues. It will enable agriculture to better match workforce needs to foreign worker recruitment and reduce visa processing times.

ADF has been working with the government through the National Farmers Federation to develop the visa.

The government’s decision to initially limit the visa to people from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries is a good first step, but ultimately the visa needs to be offered to all people across the world. We will keep working with the government on the specific design elements of the visa to ensure it is delivered efficiently and effectively.

Meeting the challenge of climate change

Climate change is a sustainability issue. Many dairy farmers are taking action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). At an industry level we have a goal to reduce GHGs intensity by 30 per cent on 2015 levels, by 2030. This goal is under review as the urgency to lower GHGs increases. The ADF’s natural resource management policy advisory group will soon meet to consider a more ambitious target.

Sustainability is a key focus of the Australian Dairy Plan. We recognise that it is essential for gaining community trust, for dairy’s long-term viability and for providing nutritious food for a healthier world.

When consumer trust meets market access

Although animal welfare is framed as a sustainability issue, it is emerging as a trade issue too. The European Union is including animal welfare and the recognition of animal sentience in some trade negotiations. Others will follow.

Dairy’s social licence and an opportunity to create value is becoming dependent on a different outcome for surplus or non-replacement dairy calves. Our views of bobby calves must now change to align with the expectations of the wider community. The change may not be easy, and the first step is to understand that dairy beef production does not have a simple solution – if it did, the problem of the surplus calf would not exist.

ADF is leading a conversation about surplus calves. It started with an online dairy beef forum in July. We will keep people talking, at least until such time that industry has a policy and programs for the profitable management of bull calves and surplus heifers. If we as dairy farmers want to maintain our position of trust with the community – local and global – dairy’s story must include the management of newborn calves.

Keep the right to use common food names

The trade issue of Geographical Indications (GIs) is back on the agenda with an outcome expected in the first quarter of 2022.

As part of negotiations towards an Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the EU wants to stop Australian companies using common names, such as feta, haloumi and parmesan for their food products. The EU argues that such names are indicators of a place of origin (in Europe) and are being misused.

Dairy Australia estimates that local products worth more than $650 million in annual sales are at some commercial risk if the dairy GI protections proposed by the EU are built into an FTA. The impact of a strict agreement on GIs would be keenly felt by dairy processors and, of course, the farmers who supply them.

Once this looming storm of issues passes the focus of our policy advocacy on behalf of all dairy farmers will shift to priorities for the next parliamentary term – truth in food labelling, competition and supply chain reform and supporting industry profitability (implementation of the Senate’s Dairy inquiry, our innovation agenda and the Australian Dairy Plan).

Whatever is on the horizon our purpose is clear. As the recognised national voice of dairy farming, the ADF is working to protect and improve the profitability, sustainability, and wellbeing of Australian dairy farmers.

Article supplied by Australian Dairy Farmers.

Anik Dairy, owned by dairy major Lactalis Group, has named SubhashisBasu as its new chief executive officer.

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