Dairyman has high hopes for SW revival

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

A former Australian Farmer of the Year has vowed to stay in the industry, despite putting his three dairies near Scott River in the South West on the market for about $20 million.

Ross Woodhouse said he was ready to move on to new challenges and, unlike the owners of the nearby Lactanz dairies, he was not in financial trouble.

Mr Woodhouse, one of WA's biggest milk producers, said he hoped to reinvest in dairies and had identified land at Dardanup, a cattle farm near Scott River and a former feedlot in the Wheatbelt as potential sites.

He predicted a bright future for dairying in WA but warned that large-scale agriculture in the South West was under enormous financial strain.

"Our district is dying, that is my concern," Mr Woodhouse said. "Beef farmers are really struggling to hold their business together because returns are the same as 25 years ago but input costs are through the roof.

"My concern about the dairy industry is that I'm not seeing it develop on any scale. I get frustrated when the State Government says it wants to see the dairy industry keep going but nothing comes of the rhetoric."

Mr Woodhouse said a recent Department of Agriculture and Food WA blueprint for a $650 million investment based on milk powder exports of 30,000 tonnes a year to Shanghai at least recognised the industry's potential.

"I don't want to sell to overseas interests if I can help it, but I do want to see the industry develop," he said.

The 55-year-old said there was potential for a big investor to create a super dairy near Scott River through the joint purchase of his farms and the Lactanz assets.

Mr Woodhouse is building up to a herd of 3000 milking cows on his dairies, which cover more than 2000ha. Lactanz comprises four dairies and about 4000 milking cows over 2344ha.

Lactanz, WA's biggest single milk producer, had a price tag of $27 million before being withdrawn from sale in May. It is back on the market through receivers Ferrier Hodgson.

Mr Woodhouse said he had built up his dairies since starting with 98 cows in 1998.

"At the end of my working life, I would like to be able to look back and say that I established 10 dairy farms in WA," he said.

The DAFWA blueprint included costings on developing dairies in an area including Boddington, Boyup Brook and Bridgetown using a feedlot model. Mr Woodhouse said the model had merit and he was eyeing a site with a good supply of water and grain.

He was most excited about developing a robotic rotary dairy at Dardanup for up to 800 cows.

"We are looking to develop a state-of-the-art dairy right in the heart of the WA industry and using it as an education centre, tapping into agricultural schools, Murdoch University and tourism," Mr Woodhouse said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails