Dairy

Australia and US dairy industries face similar challenges

By Country News

Multiple demands on irrigation water, stricter environmental controls and pressures from animal activists are some of the issues that are similar for Californian dairy farmers and those in Australia.

Animal scientist Dr Russ Hovey drew some parallels between the two countries in an address to Murray region farmers in Shepparton last week as part of the Murray Muster run by Murray Dairy.

Prof Hovey, who grew up in Queensland and is working with the University of California in the United States, also gave a lecture around an udder dissection as part of the Murray Muster.

Prof Hovey said California had a population almost twice that of Australia, but in an area about the size of Victoria.

The dairy industry in the state faced challenges in water resources, environmental regulation, air pollution control, waste disposal, groundwater use and public perceptions on animal management.

Intensive dairy farms tended to be total mixed rations with feed stall operations supplied by double or triple cropping, he said.

Some farms in the north of San Francisco which were more pasture based, mostly sold into the organic market which was popular there.

Prof Hovey said the average herd size was about 1300 cows, heavily capitalised, which created pressures on business operations, with narrow margins.

‘‘Many of our herds are milked three times a day and the operations are pretty much 24 hours a day,’’ he said.

Adoption of technology was wide-spread in the US, Prof Hovey said.

‘‘Everyone thinks that labor in California is cheap, but that is changing.

‘‘There is competing pressure from other industries.

‘‘It’s pretty hard to get someone to milk cows when they can go and sit in an airconditioned cab on a tractor.

‘‘There is also pressure to increase the minimum wage at the moment, and immigration challenges.’’

Prof Hovey said there was a low adoption of automated milking systems but he expected that to change as labor costs had more effect.

He pointed to a curious difference between the US and Australian economies, where health care is ‘socialised’ in Australia through support systems like Medicare, whereas in the US there was no national health care system, but there was market support for dairy producers through the Federal Milk Marketing Order.

The Federal Milk Marketing Order system was established in the 1930s to set a minimum milk price, determined by the US Department of Agriculture, that dairy farmers are required to receive from milk processors (handlers) in a defined marketing area.

He said the growth of almond farming in California was almost unbelievable.

Prof Hovey spoke to farmers at a dinner organised as part of the Murray Dairy Murray Muster program last week.