Access to skilled overseas workers now easier for Australian dairy farmers.

Dairy farmers now have more opportunities to attract and retain staff, after skilled overseas workers employed under a Dairy Industry Labour Agreement were made eligible for permanent residency.

The changes were successfully progressed by the Australian Dairy Farmers, working closely with Dairy Australia, making the Australian dairy industry more attractive to skilled international labour.

The pathway gives dairy farmer Kristen Clark, from Finley, NSW, the opportunity to retain her skilled overseas worker who has developed a strong understanding of her farming system.

The fifth-generation dairy farmer milks 900 cows in the Riverina region alongside her mother, Helen and sister, Donna, producing more than eight million litres per year.

Kristen employs four family members on the farm, as well as five long-term local staff.

With farm workers increasingly hard to find in her local area, Kristen has employed a farm hand from Guatemala for the past five years under a temporary visa through a Dairy Industry Labour Agreement.

"We have always struggled to build our workforce and fill positions by getting locals on the farm," Ms Clark said.

"We fill the gap with overseas workers, but the issue is that is they're only able to be here for a limited time and they're generally unskilled.

"The person we've employed has a built her skill base working for us -- when she finishes up, we have to start from scratch with someone else."

For each new farm worker Kristen employs, she estimates the cost to her farm business to be about $2000 in recruitment and training.

As well as reducing the cost of hiring new farm workers, the permanent residency pathway gives Kristen the opportunity to give her staff more training, building their capacity to learn new skills as her mum takes a step back from hands-on tasks.

Kristen also sees permanent residency as an opportunity for her overseas workers to get more involved in the local community.

"We want to employ people who live in our community, so we can give back to our community, but there will always be gaps to fill," she said.

"People with permanent residency can fill that gap, because they get involved in the community as well."

Farm hand Janeth Ventura is excited by the opportunities a permanent residency pathway will bring for her family and her dairy career.

The 36-year-old has raised her two children, aged 3 and 6, in Australia and hopes a permanent residency pathway will allow her to continue living in rural Australia, creating more stability for her family and her role on-farm.

"My father had a small dairy farm in my home country, so I'm in my element with this job and I love working with Australian dairy cows," Ms Ventura said.

"I think working in Australia has improved my skills -- I've learned new abilities because the farming system is so different."

Through a permanent residency pathway, Ms Ventura hopes to upskill and pursue further training.

To vary existing labour agreements or apply for a new labour agreement to enable a pathway to permanent residency for their valued staff, farmers should email: labour.agreement.section@homeaffairs.gov.au.

More information on the Labour Agreement can be found at the People in Dairy website at thepeopleindairy.org.au/visa.

Source: FarmOnline.com.au

Dairy groups split on Coles move to buy directly from farmers.

The Coles move to buy milk directly from farmers has split dairy advocacy groups.

NSW Dairy Connect was glowing in its praise of the move, Australian Dairy Farmers cautiously welcomed it ,while the Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation said it was difficult to trust the intentions of the supermarket giant.

As the new arrangements will apply only in Victoria and central and southern NSW, the QDO stance at this stage is largely academic as its members won't be affected but it reflects the Queensland organisation's moves to position itself as a leading national organisation.

Coles announced last week it would start sourcing milk directly from farmers in Victoria and southern and central NSW from July.

Saputo Australia would continue to pack the milk for the supermarket chain's discount lines, which have sold for $1.10 a litre since March.

Coles has put out the call to Victorian and NSW farmers interested in contracting their milk production to send in an expression of interest.

It said was also "looking for opportunities" to expand its direct buying footprint to other milk-producing regions.

Dairy Connect welcomed the announcement that Coles was side-stepping the processor in NSW and Victoria.

"While stakeholders had yet to have access to the fine print involved with the proposal, on face value, it provides a pathway to the future for the milk supply chain," Dairy Connect president Graham Forbes said .

"Notionally, the proposal should deliver price-certainty for up to three years for dairy producers supplying Coles house brand milk."

The plan would address a number of complaints the farmers had about the existing system.

But QDO said while Woolworths had a direct relationship with farmers through its Farmers' Own brand, this was a premium brand that sold at more than $1.50/L, while the Coles deal would apply to its private label milk, that sold for $1.10/L.

QDO said it expected dairy farmers who supplied Coles to receive the full 10c/L the supermarket had promised would be directly passed on to farmers when it lifted the retail price earlier this year.

It also expressed concern about the potential power imbalance between Coles and its suppliers.
The QDO said farmers, as small business owners, already struggled to negotiate with multinational processors for a fair farmgate price. 

It asked what hope would an individual farmer have to negotiate a fair and sustainable farmgate price when up against the might of Coles.

"At this stage, the nuts and bolts of how and what this relationship and process will look like is pure speculation, with only Coles knowing truly what its intentions are," QDO executive officer Eric Danzi said.

The supermarket should be lifting its price of fresh milk to pre-2010 levels.

"What we need to ensure is that this does not give Coles even more power over dairy farmers and does not allow Coles to revert to $1/L pricing," Mr Danzi said.Australian Dairy Farmers said more competition for milk was healthy and the Coles deal had the potential to provide greater transparency within the dairy supply chain between farmers and retailers.

But although saying it was hopeful, it wanted further information about how the deal would work.
It also called on Coles to commit to ensuring that $1/L milk never returned to its shelves.

The most unsustainable part of the dairy industry was the lack of value being returned to farmers through the domestic market.

ADF said it was imperative value was delivered through the supply chain, with farmers receiving their fair share for the hard work, risk and investment they had in this industry. 

This included farmers securing their fair share of future retail price increases across the dairy cabinet.

Source: Farm Online. This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer