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Culture check needed for dairy industry to thrive: Odgers

By Geoff Adams

National dairy leader Jeff Odgers has warned the industry needs a culture check and has to address some broader issues if it is going to move ahead.

Speaking at the opening of last week’s Australian Dairy Conference, the Ardmona farmer — who is chair of Dairy Australia — raised a number of issues, consistent with the theme of the event: ‘Dairy Cultures'.

“I’m going to start by saying as much as I love this industry … Australian dairy gets a little weaker every day,” Mr Odgers said.

“We have a lot of great people and a proud history of successes, inclusive of being the world’s fourth largest dairy exporter.

“But I reckon many of us sense — more than that, we feel — that this industry has lost momentum.”

He acknowledged the milk pricing shocks of 2016 damaged the relationship between farmers and processors and diminished trust.

Processors were now grappling with a smaller national milk pool and a very competitive and changed market environment.

“Farmers are searching for margin and stable trading conditions in their farm systems,” Mr Odgers said.

“At the same time trying to navigate climate change, deeper droughts, heightened volatility in markets and access to resources.

“Increasing scale and complexity have driven the need for deeper and broader skills.

“We have successful businesses in all regions, but data sets point to greater challenges with profit and greater risk across the board.’’

While there were improved milk prices this year across the board the industry was still under pressure.

“In reality, we’ve seen a performance decline in the profitability of the Australian supply chain,” Mr Odgers said.

“A range of factors, a number beyond our control, have contributed.

“Our many organisations are not always on the same page.

“It follows that when groups of people are dealing with hardship and feel under pressure, or threat, they will gather in places where they feel those issues can be best shared and understood.

“In a country as large and diverse as Australia, trying to deal with issues solely on a localised region or state basis, results in a fragmentation of effort.

“Fragmentation of the industry is hurting stakeholders.”

However, Mr Odgers did point to some broad positives:

● Milk consumption remains strong and Australia has one of the highest per capita rates of dairy consumption in the world.

● Butter and yogurt consumption continue to grow.

● An overwhelming majority of the public trust dairy 70 per cent of people trust the dairy industry, 84 per cent trust dairy as wholesome and healthy and there continues to be growing support for dairy farmers.

“Given these positives, some might say the challenges we face aren’t necessarily ‘all on the outside’," Mr Odgers said.

“The changes we need to contemplate will need to come ‘from within'.”

He urged a change in mindset, where farmers were not shy about acknowledging their successes and who understood that great things had been accomplished from humble beginnings.

The full text of Mr Odgers’ address is on the Dairy Australia website.