The south-west is geographically blessed in so many different ways. Some of these at least were obvious to the early settlers who began farming the area in the early 1800s before dairy really took hold later that century.
Abundant rainfall and rich soils in particular are a perfect combination for the dairy industry and this, with wool and beef, has seen the region credited as being the state’s most valuable agricultural producer.
This is testimony to the tough as teak agricultural community in which we live. Their unstinting efforts over almost two centuries have built and nurtured the region.
But news this week that no less than 28 per cent of dairy farmers are looking to leave the land shows that all is not well.
Rainfall patterns are slowly changing, an oversupply of dairy globally resulted in depressing milk prices being set by the multi-nationals and supermarket oligarchies that control the industry. Some of the usual problems with pasture pests and other challenges that make the life of farmers so difficult have been made worse for many by the devastation of this year’s St Patrick’s Day fires. Given dairy farmers in particular face a merciless routine of milking twice a day, day in, day out, in all weather with a diminishing labour pool to help run their farms, you’d have to ask: who’d be a dairy farmer?
It is clear that if the dairy drain is as bad as the statistics predict, over time the diminution of the dairy industry would be a hammer blow to the region.
So what can be done? Perhaps we do not need to look too far for inspiration.
Tasmania’s not-dissimilar dairy industry (and more generally, food producers) have managed to position themselves at the quality top end of markets.
A quick scan of supermarket and delicatessen shelves reveals Tasmanian-this, Tasmanian-that with price tags to match.
The formula is easy enough and also applicable to the south-west.
Our dairy products are (like Tasmania) produced in clean environments the envy of the world. Untainted water, no pollution from heavy industries, an artisan feel to what we do.
If the cooperative models of the past are not the answer, as one farmer unhappy with milk opening prices commented that farmers would be “crazy” not to shop around for better prices from other dairy companies.
Can it be done? Can we position ourselves as a gourmet producer and place our brand on the haute cuisine tables of the world?