He grew up in Benalla and though he went on to develop an international trade and investment career based on his engineering and technology capabilities, his extended family — including grandparents Burnett and Susan Caird — were dairy farmers in Tatura.
Now based in Canberra, Mr Askew is still passionate about the prosperity of regional communities and for many years has been concerned by the decline in dairy production volumes, farmers getting squeezed on price and people leaving the industry.
“I kept wondering why we were letting the industry decline when there is rapidly expanding new market opportunities available through export — particularly in Asia where consumption of dairy is increasing,” he said.
The White Tide project — a partnership between Greater Shepparton City Council, Mr Askew’s company AgriGate Australia and Murray Dairy — may just offer a pathway to capitalise on these new opportunities.
The project has developed and tested technology to extend the shelf life of raw milk, which Mr Askew says will open overseas markets.
Dairy farmers are currently restricted by a 36-hour limit in which raw milk must be processed before it spoils, which prevents them from tapping into export markets.
The White Tide trial involves new game-changing technology that effectively slows the clock, with patented processes and a 24,000-litre tank enabling raw milk to be stored significantly longer and shipped direct from the Australian farm to Asia.
Mr Askew said while the details of the technology were still commercial-in-confidence, it was quite different to existing technologies used to export pasteurised milk.
“It plays to the strengths of Australia’s world-class dairy product (by suspending degradation of the raw milk) … the raw milk is sealed in the tank at the farm and not touched until it reaches our factory in Asia,” he said.
It also meets the strict transport, biosecurity, safety and quality standards applied to raw milk exports.
Once the milk arrives overseas and after ensuring it meets all that country’s raw milk regulations, AgriGate plans to value-add to meet local consumer demand.
The innovation built into the White Tide technology allows the Asian consumer to identify the specific farm and Australian region that the milk is sourced from.
In another first enabled by the technology, a farmer-to-consumer relationship is established where the dairy farmer can digitally tell the story behind the quality, safety and animal welfare incorporated in the production of the product.
And the overseas interest is already there — in an Australian first the White Tide project has received import approval for raw milk into one of the country’s major Asian trading partners, with a forward order of 80 million litres.
The region’s dairy sector is also very interested.
Victoria accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the $13 billion Australian dairy industry, with northern Victoria producing one-third of the state’s total 6 billion litres of milk.
Murray Dairy chief executive officer Jenny Wilson said diversification was always welcomed.
“(As well as) helping farmers increase profitability … our role also extends to networking and making connections,” Ms Wilson said.
“We helped the White Tide project by providing advice on export markets and the regulations around raw milk.
“We also need to ensure farmers can supply the premium milk needed to meet the standards and demand.
“More broadly, in this area, we’re seeing diversification across the agriculture sector and this is just another pillar/opportunity for dairy and that’s a good thing.”
The project was supported through the Victorian Government’s Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund, which helps businesses create jobs in regional Victoria, supports community projects and backs councils to build the infrastructure.