ONE of Australia’s major television networks did something very unusual last Saturday evening – it gave attention to a good news story on Australian ag.
On its 6pm news, Channel Nine aired a feature story on a dairy industry innovation. It was simple, entertaining, informative and jargon free. The story highlighted a few of the challenges we face, but showed how an industry and its farmers worked together to get their fresh milk into the fridges of China, the biggest population in the world.
The visual power of television as a communication channel is unparalleled, and the agricultural snapshot that Nine’s Mike Dalton put together flooded into hundreds of thousands of homes across Australia.
This achieved two things: it shared a healthy, positive story of agriculture in Australia and it showed what can happen when we work together.
Norco, the northern NSW dairy co-operative along with international export consulting company Peloris Global Sourcing (PGS) and the NSW dairy advocacy group Dairy Connect worked together to open a “pipeline” to China for their farmers’ milk.
At three minutes, the story was nearly double a usual evening news story. The visual of healthy cows in picturesque dairy country, overlaid with classical music was - for many reasons - the best advertisement for Australian agriculture.
The story started with “contented cows, contently graze” and went on to mention China’s perception of Australia being clean and green. It also mentioned that co-op profits go directly back to farmers and highlighted the fact that farmgate returns for dairy farmers hadn’t risen in line to cope with ongoing rises in input costs like electricity prices.
It gave awareness to some industry challenges, but also how we’re overcoming hurdles. The report also mentioned that new initiatives like this may “bring families back to farming.” And there wasn’t an “old farmer in a shabby hat” in sight.
This is exactly what our industry needs to do more of: tell the positive stories, to increase confidence, which then gives respect and eventually builds trust.
Unfortunately, since being aired, the story and exposure Channel Nine gave the industry hasn’t been given the attention and push around on social media that it deserves. Agriculture, like any other culture, is increasingly using social media to gain traction from issues spawned from negativity.
But underneath the surface, this news story gave a great example of industry players seeing a world past the end of their noses. They had looked beyond their own businesses and together produced a solution for the industry, giving their farmers and businesses greater access and security to growth.
Dairy Connect CEO Mike Logan told me: “With one small shipment we have shown that a united industry can create a new market channel”. He said it wasn’t about price, volume or potential, but rather, control.
Since deregulation and the rise of the duopoly, dairies have been dependent on one market channel – the supermarkets. The steps taken to open up export opportunities for fresh Australian milk to China will see the industry regain some control and use that to bring value back to the processors, shippers and farmers who participate.
Norco, owned by its 175 or so dairies sent its first commercial shipment of 4500 litres of bottled milk to China early last week. By working with PGS, Dairy Connect, and Chinese officials, they’ve cut quarantine from up to 21 days down to seven days, giving the fresh stuff with its relatively short shelf life a window of opportunity to appear in China’s fridges.