AUSTRALIA’S dairy farmers, processors and manufacturers will start work next autumn on a co-ordinated national plan that will map out a future direction for the troubled industry.
Industry leaders have settled on a consultation program with dairying communities as a first step to establishing an industry plan for the next five years and beyond, as a course of action at a recent working breakfast in Melbourne, Victoria.
Participants included Australian Dairy Farmers president and Australian Dairy Industry Council chairman Terry Richardson, Dairy Australia chairman Jeff Odgers, Gardiner Foundation chairman Dr Bruce Kefford and Australian Dairy Products Federation ADPF) president Grant Crothers.
The Gardner Foundation was created in 2000 with $62 million in funding from the sale of assets, including milk brands, as part of the deregulation of the dairy industry.
It chooses to promote competitiveness of the industry generally and the Victorian section in particular by funding a range of projects.
The ADPF is the peak policy body for commercial and non-farm members of the industry.
Its members include Harvey Fresh owner Parmalat Australia, the former National Foods division of Lion Dairy and Drinks, Fonterra Australia, Murray Goulburn owner Saputo Dairy Australia, Norco Foods, Bega Cheese, Nestlé Group, Bulla Dairy Foods and A2 dairy Products Australia.
Mr Richardson said the industry faced multiple challenges and opportunities and needed to prioritise its focus, hence the plan for a plan.
“There is no doubt that we have been challenged with rising costs of production, retail price stagnation, tough seasons and changing global markets,” Mr Richardson said.
“A plan that sets the agenda on a national scale is needed to provide direction and focus.
“A strong dairy industry needs farmers and processors to be successful, as well as the businesses and communities that play an integral role.
“A confident dairy industry can navigate the current challenges and be more self-assured when looking to the future.
“It is also critical that we are more united, working together on a national scale and dealing with uncertainty with a show of strength,” he said.
Mr Odgers said Dairy Australia fully supported a whole-of-industry plan.
“Consultation with farmers and people connected with the industry, contributing to a national plan will be key to identifying priorities and defining the future of the Australian dairy,” Mr Odgers said.
“We encourage everyone to participate in consultation that will be held across Australia, starting in autumn next year.”
Dr Kefford said the Gardiner Foundation had a track record of uniting industry participants to stimulate discussion.
“We agree it is now time for broad participation in setting the future direction, and we see enormous value in a single industry plan that provides guidance for all,” Dr Kefford said.
Mr Crothers said a core strength of the industry was an ability for the whole supply chain to work together.
“(The ADPF) supports this initiative and encourages opportunities for farmers and processors to speak with one voice,” Mr Crothers said.
The spokesmen said further information on the dairy plan and consultation process, would be made available later this month.
More consultation from milk processors on likely markets and volumes required so suppliers can better target their production was one of the concerns WA dairy farmers put to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the industry last year.
An industry-wide plan may address that.
The past three seasons have been unsettling for WA dairy farmers with two of the three processors dropping suppliers who had no say in the decisions and continued downward pressure on farmgate milk prices, with the 2017-18 average below what farmers were paid in 2014-15 despite a sharp rise in feed costs.
Farm Weekly understands the WA dairy industry has continued to shrink with as many as eight farmers either retiring or quitting the industry in the past 12 months, taking the State’s dairy farmer numbers from about 160 in 2015 to about 140 or less now.
Price step downs, one of the biggest processors in Murray Goulburn failing and being sold, global market uncertainty and the impacts of drought have plagued the dairy industry in Eastern States in the last three seasons.