I note that Australian Dairy Farmers has distributed the agenda for the ADF AGM to be held at the end of this month.
The major items of business are the election of directors, and one key proposed change to the constitution.
The constitution amendment seeks to ensure that a licensed dairy farmer conducting business anywhere in Australia can only be a business member of ADF if they are also a member of the State dairy farmer organisation (SDFO) in the state in which they operate.
The effect of this amendment at this time is that dairy farmer members of eastAUSmilk (the soon to be completed merger of Dairy Connect and QDO) who operate in NSW, cannot become business members of ADF unless they are also members of NSW Farmers' Association.
I ask: 1) why this is a necessary pre-condition? And 2) of all the matters to attend to in Australian dairying, why does ADF prioritise this?
The challenges (and opportunities) facing dairy farming in Australia at present are serious and numerous.
In addressing these challenges, why does it matter which of the SDFOs a farmer belongs to if they want to be represented by the national advocacy body that is working to improve their industry?
And why does ADF move to exclude legitimate dairy farmers from their ranks based on which SDFO they choose to join?
I have become close to this issue in recent months while providing independent facilitation of the merger discussions between Dairy Connect and Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation (QDO).
What I have witnessed is two dairy advocacy groups joining together in order to be more resilient and successful in their work to deliver better outcomes and services to their members in NSW and Queensland.
They have recognised that their members have much in common in regard to their farming systems and the markets they serve, and that, in servicing them, it is not relevant whether they farm in NSW or Queensland.
I have worked in and around the Australian dairy industry for over 35 years, including as a senior manager with the Dairy Farmers Group, a past President of the Dairy Industry Association of Australia, a Director of Dairy Food Safety Victoria and a Director of Subtropical Dairy Program.
This is the first time that I have felt so strongly about an issue to be driven to publicly share my views.
I have watched the decline of this industry over the last decade and more.
Dairy farmers across Australia have exited due to external pressures such as drought and rising costs, and bad behaviour by powerful supply chain participants who have undervalued their product and damaged their farming businesses.
The Australian Dairy Plan developed through 2019 and 2020 and published last year was an important initiative intended to bring the industry together and forge a path for the future.
Although the desired structural reform at the national level has not yet materialised, the other elements of the plan can potentially deliver solid outcomes for the industry.
However, the efforts to promote unity in the dairy industry are undermined by this move by ADF to actively disenfranchise some dairy farmers.
And this is coming at a time when the industry recognises the need to increase, not decrease, the level of farmer engagement in their representative bodies in the quest to secure better results from their advocacy.
The outgoing ADF President Terry Richardson called last year to reform the culture in the dairy industry.
In Terry's call for a cultural shift, he asked some pertinent questions:
"Do we seek to build consensus and focus on the future, or continue to debate the past?"
"Do we prefer to collaborate, or is confrontation more acceptable?"
"Do we challenge ideas or people?"
My response is that it is time to build consensus, focus on the future, collaborate, and challenge ideas.
During the Australian Dairy Plan consultation sessions in 2019, dairy farmers across the country loudly and consistently called for unity.
Now is the moment to heed the industry's call, to create a culture of inclusion, and to have the courage to invite all dairy farmers into the tent.
Declaration of dairy interests: Jo Davey is a life member of the Dairy Industry Association of Australia and a board member of FSANZ and PPB Technology. She operates as an independent strategy and innovation consultant to dairy industry organisations and the wider food industry.
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