The rolling green hills of the Southern Highlands in New South Wales are littered with ramshackle tin sheds. Once they were thriving milking stations, now they’re a sad reminder of the downfall of Australia’s dairy industry.
For Cressida Cains, who grew up in the area and returned to Robertson after living overseas to set up Pecora Dairy in 2011, seeing so many of her fellow dairy farms close down is “devastating.”
“In 2019, we had 486 small dairy farmers leave the industry, which is the largest annual exodus to date. The small number of processors together with the tightly held retail markets leaves little negotiating power for small family owned farms.” explains Cains, acknowledging the many challenges farmers face including environmental, economic and market pressures. “It’s a concerning time. I feel very fortunate to have a sustainable business. I really want to give back to the industry that’s given me so much.”
Enter Dairy Cocoon: an online platform and support hub built to help dairy farmers create business and marketing plans and give them access to education resources and practical advice.
“When we started Pecora Dairy 11 years ago, we had a substantial learning curve. We realised it was difficult for small dairy farmers to have any bargaining power with the current model of selling milk to the processors,” says Cains, who spent 10 years milking her sheep and making cheese, and has now stepped into a leadership role in the business. “Dairy Cocoon offers an alternative for dairy farmers interested in producing their own branded milk, yoghurt, gelato or cheese.”
Cains surveyed a group of small dairy farmers and asked them to list all the hurdles that stood in the way of their success. They answered: access to markets, financial health, education and expert assistance. These are the pillars in which Dairy Cocoon is built on.
So far, Cains has helped five dairy farmers, and is using her Westpac bursary from the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award to help even more. She estimates that if Dairy Cocoon saves 25 dairy farms over the next fives years, it will have an impact of over 100 new jobs and a direct and indirect economic impact of $112 million.
“Dairy Cocoon is a model – and it’s working. The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award has given me an incredible opportunity to make lasting, long-term, sustainable change,” says Cains. “I strongly believe in the Australian dairy industry, and I’m excited about its future.”
Cains would like to see the dairy industry follow in the footsteps of Australia’s illustrious wine industry. Where once we revered French wine above all other, now we have a thriving domestic wine industry of incredible quality which has been embraced by Australians.
“We have some incredible artisan cheese makers in this country, and our cheese is world class. There’s an appetite for locally produced dairy and that’s growing rapidly,” says Cains, encouraging us all to shop local and support independent producers. “I mean, who doesn’t love a cheese board?”