Many media statements made about the need for a national Dairy Plan makes it seem that Australia's dairy industry has some minor issues that need to be addressed and that structurally it may need some tweaking.
This would be the huge understatement and an underestimation of the job at hand. Such an attitude is why so many people are disillusioned with and disengaged from the consultation process.
The fact is that the Australian dairy industry is no longer yielding real profit for any sector and needs major reform for it to be fixed. This lack of profitability (or sustainable profit margins) applies not just to farmers but to processors, retailers and secondary industries associated with dairy.
All players need to acknowledge their roles and responsibilities for the industry being in its current state and must accept that massive restructuring needs to be undertaken for the industry to see sustained profitability.
Farmers have already voiced their opinions as to what they see as wrong with the industry and have done so on many occasions and most question why they need to spend more time outlining their concerns again.
Certainly, without even attending the sessions, we can identify some key concerns regarding the low profitability of the industry, overlap of service delivery, inefficient delivery of services and little or no focus on profitability for the specific purpose of developing the National Dairy Plan.
While we appreciate the frustration of having to attend the planned consultation sessions, they are vital to ensuring that all issues are officially tabled and critically evaluated.
One concern to us is that on top of the 24 sessions facilitated by the appointed consulting group, lead organisations are also encouraging additional sessions to be run by parties who have a vested interest in the outcomes.
The feedback that comes from consultation sessions needs to be unbiased. For this to happen, sessions need to be run by independent consultants who specialise in facilitation and market research. Without a trained facilitator and proper process to collate this data, these sessions can skew results.
Any individual interested in the future of the Australian dairy industry needs to attend the sessions planned over the coming months. While there are a number of lesser points that QDO would like to see tabled at these sessions, the three key areas that we believe need to be addressed are:
- That farmers and processors need to lead the industry together - industry wide profitability needs to be every organisation's primary purpose.
- That government funding and levies must go to peak industry bodies to allocate to the highest priorities and most capable organisations.
- That there needs to be a rationalisation of all farmer service delivery organisations so that there is a focus on the profitability of the industry, that organisations have a defined purpose and role within the industry's structure and that there should be no duplication, overlap or competition for membership or funding between organisations.
At the end of the consultation period, it is hoped that the feedback provides a solid foundation for a real plan for the future of our dairy industry. As a working plan, it needs to have clear objectives, deliverables and viable timelines for implementation.
Being a bystander to this process is not an option for any farmer who intends to continue farming. The Dairy Plan will not succeed unless every stakeholder in the industry has their say.