Hang in there and plan for better times, dairy farmers told

Senior dairy industry and ANZ bank representatives faced spirited questioning from farmers at the 2013 Sungold Field Days yesterday about their rosy long-term outlook for the industry.

Speaking at an ANZ Warrnambool networking luncheon, Dairy Australia strategy and knowledge manager Joanne Bills and ANZ agribusiness chief Mark Bennett encountered objections from local dairy farmers critical of their message to look beyond the industry’s present poor profitability and take a long-term view.

One woman told the two speakers she was sick of being told to diversify and take new approaches to improve her dairy farm’s profitability.

“Many farmers cannot make ends meet. At the end of the day, we cannot do it better,” she said.

Young dairy farmer Oliver Carson of Irrewillipe, near Colac, said the response by government to dairying’s tough financial situation left him wondering if it cared about the industry.

Another farmer blasted Australia’s free trade agreement with New Zealand, saying it favoured the Kiwis, who had been able to gain a significant share of dairy product sales in Australian supermarkets.

Ms Bills told the lunch that volatility in international dairying was likely to continue for many years.

She said the industry was a cyclical one and “the wheel would turn” from the situation now faced by many farmers and they needed to take a long-term approach to help them through tough times.

“We need to plan to manage these cycles,” Ms Bills said.

“We are an industry of the future. We need to build a positive reputation for the industry.”

However, she accepted it was difficult for many dairy farmers to think long-term when they were having trouble paying bills.

Dairy Australia met last week in the south-west with representatives of the newly formed Farmer Power group to discuss its concerns about the plummeting incomes of farmers, she said. 

“A lot of good operators are doing it tough but they will be there for the future,” Ms Bills said.

Giving the ANZ bank’s perspective, Mr Bennett said it realised that some dairy farms were in a volatile situation because of the poor returns they were receiving after investing significantly in expanding their businesses.

He urged dairy farmers to consult with their bank or other financial advisers about their financial situation before it became dire.

“Use the banker as someone with whom you can have a constructive conversation,” Mr Bennett said.

“Farmers should not feel like they are doing it on their own.”

Click here to read the Sungold Field Days program.

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