‘Very disappointing’: Australian dairy farmers vote ‘no change’ to industry levy

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Forest Grove dairy farmer Ian Noakes is the new WAFarmers dairy section president. Shannon Verhagen
Camera IconForest Grove dairy farmer Ian Noakes is the new WAFarmers dairy section president. Shannon Verhagen Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

A leading WA dairy farmer has called the results of a national vote on the amount of money funneled into research and development for Australia’s $4.4 billion dairy industry “very disappointing”.

In Dairy Australia’s first vote to change the levy paid by growers across the country in a decade, almost two thirds of the vote went to “no change” as opposed to a 15, 20 or 25 per cent increase.

It will mean the levy — which is calculated from milk fat and protein levels and since 2016 has sat at just over 10¢/kg — will stay the same for the next five years.

Forest Grove farmer and WAFarmers dairy section president Ian Noakes has concerns it will force Dairy Australia to make cuts to valuable programs used by WA farmers.

“It’s disappointing,” he said.

“We felt we get good value out of Dairy Australia and the programs they run — I’m sure that’s why our farming systems are very good here, or at least part of the reason.

“Dairy Australia are going to have to make some cuts as they’ve been eating into the reserves and that’s been fine as they had more than they needed, but it’s getting to the stage now where they’ll be needing to make cuts.

“I don’t know where they’ll make the cuts but one of our biggest issues in future is we have to move towards reducing our carbon footprint and that will be a challenge with a smaller budget.”

The landslide win comes despite the recommendation of the independent Levy Poll Advisory Committee — which included outgoing Western Dairy chair and Jindong farmer Peter Evans — to vote for a 20 per cent increase.

WA dairy farmers were the most actively engaged in the count, with 47.5 per cent of eligible farmers voting, followed by South Australia (42.93), Tasmania (38.13), Queensland (38.04), Victoria (34.5), New South Wales (32.13) and New Zealand (20).

While no change came out on top with 64 per cent of the vote, a 20 per cent increase was next in line with 23.8 per cent, followed by 15 and 25 per cent increases, which got 9.6 and 2.6 per cent of the votes respectively.

Mr Noakes speculated that many of the WA farmers would have opted for one of the increase options.

“My suspicion, without actually knowing anything, would be that quite a few of them would have voted for an increase,” he said.

In the vote, growers were told the levy would be targeted towards four investment areas — addressing labour needs, supporting farmers to address climate, tailoring regional services and ensuring farmers had a “stronger voice” in policy development.

Mr Noakes said while the east coast dairying regions were having a good run, it would have been a timely opportunity to increase it.

“At a time when not so much in WA, but on the east coast they are having what they’re calling a ‘dairy boom,’ it was a good opportunity with more prosperity on each farm to increase it,” he said.

Mr Noakes said Dairy Australia programs had been extremely valuable to WA farmers, with the uptake of its ‘Our Farm, Our Plan’ program strong and the research and development body assisting with employment.

Dairy Australia has been notified by Link Market Services, the independent company engaged to conduct the vote, that ‘no change’ to the levy was preferred among farmers, receiving 64 per cent of the votes.

Dairy Australia chair and South Australian dairy farmer James Mann thanked the 1558 voters who participated and said the funds would help “determine the future” of the industry.

“Our collective funds play an important role in delivering services that individual farmers cannot deliver alone – whether that’s research in feed or genetics, or how we respond to challenges such as labour and natural disasters – your contribution will continue to make a big difference for our industry,” he said.

Dairy Australia managing director David Nation said it was pleasing to see 36 per cent of voters put their first preference as an increase in the levy.

He said it indicated support for the four key areas identified in the poll as “critical for our industry’s long-term success”.

“We will need to consider how we address these key areas and now work to prioritise investment and services with these areas in mind, along with our current investment mix,” Dr Nation said.

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