Working together will be better for dairy

Forget state versus state; our dairy industry will be better when we work together

Agribusiness
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NSW dairy farmer Peter Graham shares his hopes for the Dairy Plan and a unified national dairy industry.

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The NRL State of Origin pits Queensland against NSW in a war for supremacy. Nothing beats the rivalry of the game when it comes down to a Round 3 decider match as we will see this week.

But when it comes to dairying both Queensland and NSW farmers and organisations are working towards unity; a goal that will result in a more efficient and effective dairy industry.

This week, we invited NSW dairy farmer, Peter Graham to share his hopes for the Dairy Plan and a unified national dairy industry.

The proposed National Dairy Plan certainly opened a can of worms when it was announced and until we see what the overarching plan and ancillary plans look like, there will be continued speculation as to what will be achieved.

There is one word that has been bandied around a lot, and that is unity. While the Dairy Plan is still being drafted I thought I'd take the opportunity to weigh in on what I believe needs to be unified.

For me, unity must not just be a principle; it needs to be used in practice, from the top to the grassroots farmers.

A united approach to issues that affect the cost of production.

The drought continues to play havoc with feed costs, and unfair water contracts have major cost implications for farmers relying on irrigation. These are just two examples of issues that affect profitability and sustainability.

Last year's Drought Levy campaign highlighted this when supermarkets and processors only provided the levy payments to farmers in those areas that were drought declared. These problems affected every farmer regardless of whether they were being directly impacted or not, and the division of them versus us caused friction and disunity.

At a national level, we need processors to factor in all the things that go bump in the night to their pricing and apply it to all contracts regardless of location.

A unified forecast pricing model.

Currently, all pricing is done based on retrospective figures and then forecast for only one year, yet farmers are expected to commit to a 3-5 year contract period.

Together, we need to force processors to develop a more robust forecasting model or alternatively to change contractual clauses that lock farmers down beyond one year. A key area of our RD & E needs to be the development of a model that can provide realistic forecasting beyond 12 months.

A united price.

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of 'them versus us' thinking in our industry is the fact that there are contracts based on milk solids or raw milk depending on what the milk supplied is used for. All processors should work on a single pricing unit. Since the world milk price is based on kg/MS, this should be used throughout Australia.

What this will do, is help us compare and evaluate processor contracts easily. If cost of production variables is considered and freight is factored in, a national milk price can and should be set and be regardless of location.

A unified organisational structure.

A fellow farmer recently went to the trouble of developing an org chart of the Australian Dairy industry. To put it bluntly, it is a convoluted mess. I've been told many times that advocacy and R, D & E need to be separate entities but it still makes no sense to me.

We need to look at the overall structure of the industry and we need to do it better and be more cost-efficiently.

All states need to have a dairy farming specific organisation rather than being a small entity within a larger state-based body where dairy is but one industry requiring representation. We need to have regional branches feed into a state body and each state body is represented at the national level.

If there does need to be some delineation between advocacy and RD & E, let it be at a senior management level only. Administration, marketing, policy and project officers, education and training should exist as one rather than doubling or in some instances tripling up resources.

All projects and costs need to be fully transparent and accountable. To ensure unity we need open communication and we need to remove the 'them versus us' mentality that still exists across state divides.

Personally, I'm very much looking forward to a unified dairy industry in Australia.

The story Working together will be better for dairy first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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