Focusing on industry future

By Alana Christensen

Adapting to a dairy industry in transition is key to the future of the industry, according to Murray Dairy’s industry strategy, Future Focus.

Launched in Tatura last week, the document outlines key areas to be addressed including profit, farm systems, water policy, people, planning and promotion.

With dry conditions and high feed and water prices hitting the industry hard, Murray Dairy regional manager Jenny Wilson said the policy would form a ‘‘blueprint’’ for the future.

Pointing to water as a key driver behind the policy, Ms Wilson said the document would ultimately feed into the Australian Dairy Plan, with a draft expected to be released by May.

‘‘It isn’t our job to tackle it all, it’s our job to paint the picture and see how we can adapt,’’ Ms Wilson said.

‘‘A key focus (of Future Focus) was gaining a better understanding of the economics; there’s a huge variance in farm systems.

‘‘The value is we’ve set a good base for consultation on the national dairy plan.’’

Following consultation with 160 farmers and other key stakeholders including processors and local businesses, access to skilled working visas was voiced as one area of concern for dairy farmers.

‘‘It’s really important to have access to a skilled workforce. When you do have a downturn you lose those good farm workers and their skill capability,’’ Ms Wilson said.

In 2017-18 the Murray region generated a farm-gate value of $916million, with 1372 dairy farmers producing 2064millionlitres of milk, 22 per cent of the national total.

A further $730million was injected into regional communities with 8700 people employed on-farm in the industry.

‘‘We need to protect that and ensure a profitable product,’’ Murray Dairy chair Karen Moroney said.

Work began on the document 18 months ago in response to several years of challenges for the industry, including the 2016 milk price crash.

‘‘We saw both local, state and federal governments wanting to help but no-one knew who to approach,’’ Ms Moroney said.

‘‘This is what we need, a guiding strategy to continue to support dairy.’’

On a local scale, Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive officer Sam Birrell said although the region’s sector was less reliant on agriculture than decades before, it continued to provide a significant amount of direct and indirect employment.

‘‘The industry is in the midst of change, it’s gone from challenge to crisis to good to challenge over the past few years,’’ he said.

‘‘We wanted to work together to help create something that charts the path forward.

‘‘It’s hard, everyone’s finding it very challenging but I don’t see the markets and the demand changing ... Any type of strategy that can be done is needed.’’

■Future Focus is available online at: www.dairyaustralia.com.au/murray-dairy