Why do I start with this definition?
Because I am tired of seeing the words representative body and Dairy Australia in the same document, let alone the same paragraph or same sentence.
Our industry representative bodies are Australian Dairyfarmers (ADF) and state bodies such as the United Dairyfarmers’of Victoria (UDV) or South Australian Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (SADA).
We hear much criticism about Dairy Australia from farmers and non-farmers who do not understand these definitions.
I was always taught that in order to criticise something, you must first understand it.
So what does Dairy Australia do?
Basically, Dairy Australia funds research and dairy extension for our industry.
It does some other bits and pieces alongside these key activities, including some limited industry promotion.
At the moment, a key program Dairy Australia rolling out through its regional development programs, is a suite of resources to assist in making good on-farm decisions, called Tactics for Tight Times.
A key element of the Tactics for Tight Times program is Taking Stock.
I speak from personal experience in saying that Taking Stock is an excellent opportunity for one-on-one assessment of how things are going on your farm.
And it’s free.To every dairy levy-payer.
What does Taking Stock do for you?
It helps you work out whether you need to make different decisions about stocking rates, feeding regimes, staffing levels, farm infrastructure and every other aspect of your farming practice.
Dairy Australia’s farm management tool, Dairy Base, is a key part of the assessment as it benchmarks what you’re doing on your farm with what others are doing on their farms.
As farmers, we are running businesses.
Very few of us do what we do as a hobby. We have to make our businesses pay.
And like any other business, we have a range of legal requirements we must meet, as well as a range of social licence issues to keep in mind.
If we choose to, we can take up any number of learning opportunities provided for us by Dairy Australia to run our businesses more profitably.
It’s up to us.
One of the criticisms we hear about Dairy Australia is that it is a puppet of Group B members, or milk processors.
Let’s clear something up straight away.
There are only two Group B members of Dairy Australia; ADF and the Australian Dairy Products Federation (ADPF).
Why must Dairy Australia consult with Group B members when putting together strategic and operational plans?
Not only is it a requirement under the statutory agreement with government, it is also good sense.
What good is a strategic plan that does not take into consideration the needs of farmers (ADF) or the realities of the marketplace (ADPF)?
The contentious Group B member here is the ADPF.
But tell me, if there is a looming issue in the marketplace around chemical residues, or milk quality, why would you exclude information from the organisations that are in the marketplace trying to supply the needs of their customers?
Were any of us aware of the increasing concern amongst international customers about NPE residues in our milk?
If we were aware, it was only as a result of our milk processors passing that information on to us.
As farmers we may well have continued producing our milk contaminated by NPEs until we suddenly realised the marketplace didn’t want our product.
What sort of disaster would that have been?
There are any number of issues that have faced our industry that we, as farmers, would never have seen coming.
Issues such as those around bobby calves, around antibiotic use, around somatic cell counts, induction etc..
It is simply good sense for Dairy Australia to consult with Group B members when putting together strategic and operational plans.
There is no basis for any conspiracy theory here.
Another criticism is that getting on to the Dairy Australia board is akin to an election in North Korea; only those selected by the board are able to be elected.
Recent events with poor corporate governance in our largest milk processor may have provided us with the best demonstration of why Dairy Australia’s rules make sense.
Rather than for dictatorial reasons, the purpose of these rules is to ensure a skills-based board is appointed, rather than one based on popularity.
All levy-payers are able to apply to sit on the Dairy Australia board.
Their applications are then reviewed by an expert panel to determine if they have the appropriate skill set.
It’s a bit like applying for a job.
Once the most appropriately qualified applicants are selected, the levy-payers are asked to approve, or not, those selected.
Should there be a levy-payer who for whatever reason did not apply for the board and they want to still be considered, there is the option of gathering 100 signatures from levy-payers and then putting themselves to the vote.
That’s a lot better than what anyone could expect when applying for any other job.
And let’s make this perfectly clear; sitting on the Dairy Australia board, or any board, is a job complete with serious legal responsibilities.
I used to be one of those who did not understand how our industry worked.
All the arguments put to me by those who were critical of Dairy Australia, ADF, UDV and others, made sense.
It was only when I did my own research that the lack of sense in those criticisms became clear to me.
Does that mean I think everything is running wonderfully well? No, not necessarily.
There are always things that could be done better, could be done differently, perhaps should not be done at all.
But now my criticisms are constructive ones, based on a far better understanding of who does what and why in the dairy industry.
I challenge those of you who are busy being critical and negative to find out more about this wonderful industry and then to revisit your criticisms.
You might just find something that will benefit your own farming business on that journey.
Karrinjeet Singh-Mahil is a board member for Westvic Dairy and a former secretary of Farmer Power Australia Inc