Bouquet for Bannister boss

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Bannister Downs Dairy managing director Sue Daubney has for some time been recognised as a beacon of the WA agricultural industry.

But her recent winning of a national Woman in Industry Award for Advocacy - typically dominated by the mining and engineering sectors - shows that her successful approach to farming has been recognised even further afield.

The Advocacy Award - announced a fortnight ago - recognises women who have worked tirelessly to improve the image of their industry in the eyes of the public.

Mrs Daubney, who grew up in Perth and married fourth-generation Northcliffe dairy farmer Mat Daubney in 1998, has done exactly that by creating a niche premium product after her industry's deregulation in 2000.

Rather than be at the mercy of large corporates which could determine the price paid for milk, she responded by developing and implementing a business plan for packaging and marketing Bannister Downs' own high-quality, ethically-produced milk.

Within eight months of implementing her plan, the first products were on the shelf, and within four years they were again profitable.

In the years to follow, Bannister Downs has gained increasing recognition as a premium brand in WA, interstate and in parts of Asia.

The business has been so successful that Bannister Downs is in the throes of expansion, partly made possible through the partnership with Gina Rinehart's Hope Dairies late last year.

Mrs Daubney said this partnership helped the business move towards the company vision of becoming the global leaders in ethical dairy. As part of that vision, work has started on a state-of-the-art creamery complex which will showcase robotic milking through to the dispatch of fresh milk products. Aspirations are to eventually expand into tourism.

She said the relationship with Mrs Rinehart had been extremely good, and she felt fortunate they were on the same page in terms of their understanding of agriculture.

Another development at Bannister Downs is the expected settlement next week of a neighbouring 1300 acres of land.

Mrs Daubney said plans for this had been in place since before the partnership with Hope Dairies, and should, on average, enable Bannister Downs to run a further 500 cows on top of the existing 1100 dairy herd. "It will take a while to get this up and running as the property's previous use was a beef farm," she said.

"Dairy use requires different fencing and other structures."

Also in the pipeline are plans to move to voluntary milking.

"This presents an additional raft of challenges, and a learning curve for us as well," she said.

Expected to be operational by 2017, a voluntary milking system would enable the dairy to adjust to the requirements of individual cows, further reinforcing the Daubneys' ethical production values.

Even after being affected by the Northcliffe fires earlier this year, Mrs Daubney remained positive.

"There was a lot of talk about the fires, but for us it was really just the challenge for that week," she said.

"We just did our best as there was no way you could be fully prepared for it or know exactly what to expect.

"If anything, it has put us in a better position for next time. We now have much better information on how to control the fire, such as preparing the ground and having areas to break to the fire.

"In a strange way, it was also a very positive experience to see the amount of help that was there when needed."

In its nomination of Mrs Daubney for the Woman in Industry Awards, the Department of Agriculture and Food WA cited Mrs Daubney's approach and willingness to share her journey with others.

DAFWA said Mrs Daubney shared her successes, lessons learned, attributes of her business, ethical production systems, regional development aspirations and sense of community on many platforms within numerous forums, locally, interstate and internationally.

And Mrs Daubney's Woman in Industry award was not the first time she had been recognised for her efforts on the national stage.

In 2010, she won the 40 under 40 Award, which she said opened a number of doors and resulted in her first call from Mrs Rinehart.

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