National Dairy AGM’s in Melbourne

By BRIAN TESSMANN, QDO President

As is usual at this time of year last week saw a range of dairy industry events in Melbourne including the Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) and Dairy Australia (DA) Annual General Meetings. The other event was the combined ‘Dairy Industry Breakfast’ which brings together people from many diverse sectors of the industry and regions of the country.

This year’s panel of speakers looked into the issues and opportunities affecting younger farmers with an emphasis on future opportunities in the dairy industry. The first speaker, Dr Neil Barr highlighted the prominence and percentage of younger people in the industry, contrary to what many people believe. He qualified this by reasoning that there were less dairy farmers in total which moderated the percentage loss of younger participants. One of the innovative people on the panel was Naomi Ingleton part owner and principle butter maker of Mytleford Butter. Naomi travelled to France to be trained in French whipped butter production and pointed out the great opportunities that can be realised in high value boutique dairy manufacturing.

On the other side of the coin the panel included Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck who said he was proud of his party’s role in dairy deregulation and the transforming of the industry that has occurred since that time. He noted as he put it that it had been tough in the more inefficient regions that are reliant on the domestic market but this transformation was good for the industry. It is disappointing that such misguided and out of touch with reality scorched earth policies still exist in the Liberal party especially when used to justify actions regarding the dairy industry.

The assertion is that the inefficient dead wood has been cut from the industry and the more efficient new growth is left. Of course in the higher cost regions he referred to such as Queensland this has been far from the case. Since deregulation we have seen national milk production drop from almost 12 billion litres in 2000 to fewer than 9 billion per annum at one stage and continues to languish well under 10 billion litres per annum. The effect in Queensland as most would know has been far more dramatic than that with well over half the states production lost in the same period along with the international markets some of that supplied.

This carnage has certainly not created a more efficient industry with the production cost per litre of milk going up considerably nationwide. This can be contrasted with many other dairy producing nations which have not increased production costs as significantly, resulting in Australia losing much of its competitive edge over other dairy regions of the world. This has been dramatic in places such as Queensland where costs have always been higher than in southern Australia because of the domestic supply demands of keeping milk on the store shelves every day of the year. The past decade or so has seen this cost difference against southern producers blow out since deregulation leaving producers at the mercy of the large powerful players in the domestic market.

Rather than trying to reframe history to justify the major parties sorry record in this regard Senator Colbeck should be more interested in supporting the ‘effects test’ and other much needed proposed changes to the Competition and Consumer Act recommended by the Harper review. While some National Party Senators such as Matt Canavan have done great work in trying to restore some fairness to the domestic dairy market, it is still unclear if the Liberal and Labor Parties have any real intention of shaking themselves loose from their big business, big union overlords to support small business in this David verses Goliath struggle. If not then we will never achieve the current international potential and the next generation of Australian dairy farmers will have to find themselves and their families another future.