The Australian dairy industry continues to thrive, despite COVID-19 challenges

Australian dairy farmers, milk buyers and industry professionals alike have pulled together to work through the challenges presented to the Industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The release of the 2020 season milk price has put many Aussie farmers minds at ease. (Image source: Zagro)

By Harriet Knapman | @HarrietKnapman

The Australian dairy industry has faced challenges as a result of COVID-19, but farmers have continued doing what they do best to ensure the industry stays afloat.

The dairy farming industry pulled together and co-ordinated a united response to the crisis, keeping farmers and businesses informed as challenges and changes arose.

Milk producers and milk buyers alike feared the worst in June as the new milk price was due to be announced.

The release of the baseline milk price is highly important for farmers as it predicts how the season is likely to progress (the higher the milk price, the better the season). The milk price is set by the major milk buyers, such as Saputo Dairy Australia and Fonterra, which other smaller milk buyers must then compete with.

The milk prices operate on a per kilogram of milk solids (/kg MS) basis, rather than per litre. This is because milk buyers base their price on the contents of the milk, which is weighed in comparison to the volume of the milk (per litre) received from a farmer.

Sustainable Dairying Adviser for Dairy Tas, Rachel Brown, said Tasmanian farmers had been expecting the milk price to drop significantly due to the global uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ms Brown said that the majority of farmers throughout the state reported in a recent poll, conducted by Dairy Tas, that they were working on a milk price of $5-5.50 for their budgets.

“There has been nervousness around the opening milk price for this season,” she said.

 “It has been good news … with the milk price announced, under the new Dairy Code of Conduct, at $6.40 and above.

“The general mood of Tasmanian dairy farmers is positive, particularly because of the milk price and good autumn.”

Tasmanian Dairy Farmer, Edward Knapman, said he had been working off the milk price of $5.70, which had been predicted by RABO Bank.

“I am definitely relieved, even though the milk price has dropped, it is not as considerably as was predicted.” Mr Knapman said.

In addition to the relief associated with the milk price, farmers have been taking advantage of online learning and discussion groups, offered by Dairy Tas. In order to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, Dairy Tas moved a whole range of its industry extension events online, including conferences to aid farmers with COVID-19 protection strategies, Ms Brown said. The convenience of Zoom sessions has been appealing to farmers.

“Dairy farmers are some of the busiest people,” she said.

“Anything that can help them with time savings is a bonus and I think there will be changes in how a whole range of different extension activities are delivered.”

Ms Brown added that all farming businesses are required to have COVID-19 safety plans in place, and Dairy Tas aimed to assist farmers via online discussion sessions and one-on-one assistance where needed. She said that for larger farms, especially those who employ staff, it has been important to put in place safety plans, including cleaning and social distancing practices to avoid contamination.

Mr Knapman said that he had heard about a local farm, close to Smithton on the far North West coast of Tasmania, which had had two employees become infected with COVID-19. The farmer, Norm Corringan, told The Advocate that the sudden loss of his employees had been difficult, with 3000 cows still needing to be milked twice daily.

The Dairy Farming Industry is one of Australia’s most valued industries and thanks to the collaboration and effective communication of farmers and businesses, along with other industry professionals, the effects of the current pandemic have been well controlled.

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