Air of positivity at Dairy SA conference

Dairy farmers unite for Dairy SA central conference in Victor Harbor


Positivity abounds as dairy industry gather for first time since COVID outbreak, see who was in attendance.


There was an air of positivity at the Dairy SA central conference in Victor Harbor last week - the largest dairy event held in the state since COVID-19 restrictions kicked in.

About 150 dairy farmers and industry stakeholders attended, which outgoing Dairy SA chair Michael Connor said was fantastic after an "interesting" year.


"I don't think I have seen an opportunity for an industry this bright since 2006," he said.

"We had uncertainty when COVID hit, but then we saw increased demand for milk.

"We now have a good milk price and farmers are looking to expand and invest in their businesses on the back of a tough year like that."

Beston Global Food Company agribusiness general manager Hamish Browning agreed it was a time to be positive, with "decent" milk and input prices and favourable seasonal conditions.

"Hopefully that's now benefiting farmers to more confidently make on-farm decisions and it is certainly being seen in increased production," he said.

"That matters a lot to us as it drives our decision-making. Over the past five years, we have gone from 15 million litres to possibly 145mL this season, and looking to push that another 15mL next year.

"With the stage two expansion of our lactoferrin extraction plant (which will be commissioned in April), we will also four-fold the volume of lactoferrin we have been producing (to about 22 tonnes). So for the upcoming season, Bestons is looking to be competitive and sustainable."

Sustainability was the theme of the event, with discussions surrounding maintaining the 'sweet spot' the industry was presently experiencing and addressing labour shortages.

During an on-stage panel session, Beston chief executive officer Jonathon Hicks said sustainability for the company revolved around a secure supply and "extracting more value out of every litre of milk to then pass on better returns at the farmgate".

"We want to foster growth and investment, and we are trying to ease some of that volatility through multi-year contracts, but we also can't over-reward, we want to pay a market price and there are a lot of influences in the way we determine that," he said.

"Yes, we have shareholders to answer to, but our biggest focus is making sure that our dairyfarmers are sustainable and profitable.

If we keep losing people from the industry, processors will lose efficiencies and we become an even smaller drop in the ocean. - WES HURRELL

"We want to be viewed as a trusted, reliable purchaser that fosters growth and best practice on-farm."

Fellow panellist Claude Cicchiello, general manager of La Casa Del Formaggio, said to have a sustainable industry, "we need a customer on the other end".

"As a processor, we have certainly seen a retailer and consumer mindset shift - it's not just about the cheapest price anymore," he said.

"Unfortunately it had to take the industry being on its knees to change that, but consumers are now willing to pay higher prices and that is being passed on.

"COVID also realigned everyone's thinking about buying local and changed a lot of eating habits, with more people cooking at home. But we have to figure out how we keep that momentum.

"In these good times, we drive investment back into our business to create efficiencies and then pass some of the benefits on to our suppliers, and dairyfarmers are doing the same to get more out of their cows, but I feel we all have to work together more as an industry to remain top of mind of the consumer and stay relevant as an industry longer-term."

Panel facilitator and dairy business consultant Fiona Smith suggested the dairy sector could be more sustainable if there was better promotion of the industry.

"If we are in a sweet spot, then why isn't it being promoted everywhere?" she asked.

"One of the biggest issues our industry has is attracting labour, so it doesn't help that the next generation don't hear anything positive about the industry. If we want to attract labour and be sustainable, we need to be more supportive of our industry."

Torrens Vale dairyfarmer Wes Hurrell, who was also on the panel, agreed.

"Sustainability for us is about fostering the next generation," he said.

"We are getting older and will need someone to take over, but the industry is not being sold well to the public.

"This is a golden opportunity for us to promote the industry a little better than we have been and create a better culture going forward.

"We can't keep going the way we have been. We have two dairies closing down in SA purely because they have no one to take over.

"We need organisations like Dairy Australia to promote the industry better, push for more national campaigns in schools to get kids interested in the industry.

Unfortunately it had to take the industry being on its knees to change that, but consumers are now willing to pay higher prices and that is being passed on. - CLAUDE CICCHIELLO

"If we keep losing people from the industry, processors will lose efficiencies and we become an even smaller drop in the ocean."

Mr Hurrell said more secure pricing was important for this - to pay employees better and invest more in new technologies.

"Sustainability comes from good contracts," he said. "It is important we have good relationships with processors, for a good milk price and longevity of supply.

"We have so much new technology in the industry, which is quite exciting.

"Not only do they save on labour, but they also take mundane tasks out of the job, possibly making it more attractive to the next generation."

DA industry engagement manager Bernie Baxter said the organisation had a number of initiatives to address labour shortages, including engaging with labour hire companies.

"We hope this will move the responsibility and effort off farmers and the hire companies will be able to gain access into a new industry, where they may not have realised there were opportunities," Mr Baxter said.

Mr Baxter said DA was also working with universities to provide pathways for agricultural management students to gain meaningful work experience on larger dairy farms, while another initiative helped employees in lower order positions gain management skills to increase their role in the business.

"We also have Discover Dairy, which provides curriculum to schools and includes the Picasso Cows and Cows Create Careers programs," he said.

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The story Air of positivity at Dairy SA conference first appeared on Stock Journal.


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