RESEARCH, development and extension (RD+E) specific to WA’s dairy industry has been thrown a two-year financial life line by the State government.
Opening WAFarmers’ annual dairy conference in Busselton last Thursday, Regional Development, Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan promised Western Dairy $200,000 over two years to extend the existing RD+E arrangement provided through its Bunbury ‘hub’.
The new funding equates to half the annual amount committed to Western Dairy for the RD+E hub over the past three years under an agreement with the former Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).
But until Ms MacTiernan’s promise last Thursday there was no State government commitment to any further funding for the hub.
Western Dairy executive members at a business breakfast before the conference privately expressed relief at a late decision by Ms MacTiernan to announce new funding for the hub when she opened the conference.
The previous agreement that provided $600,000 from DAFWA over three years to establish and operate the hub – Dairy Australia contributed $975,000 for the same period – had expired with the end of the 2017-18 financial year.
Created by a strategic alliance between Western Dairy, Dairy Australia and the South West Catchments Council, which accommodates the hub’s three permanent staff in its office and provides administration and human resources support, the hub took over all WA dairy RD+E responsibility from DAFWA in July 2015.
It inherited ongoing major DAFWA research projects investigating herd feeding systems and potassium application rates in the feedbase and Ms MacTiernan acknowledged 12 scientific papers on dairying-related topics had since been published with hub involvement and had attracted international interest.
It also picked up several DAFWA scientists, such as senior research scientist Martin Staines, who had been with DAFWA for 17 years and had a 30-year research career specialising in herd feeding.
The scientists took voluntary redundancy packages from DAFWA, leaving permanent jobs to become research contractors to the hub and mentors to younger researchers working in the dairy field.
At the time, the then Liberal-National coalition State government with Ken Baston as agriculture minister had slashed $6.2 million from DAFWA’s annual budget and its then director general Rob Delane had indicated 250 staff would have to go over two years.
The WA dairy industry manages substantially different milk production and seasonal conditions, generally resulting in shorter pasture-growing windows and a much greater reliance on preserved feeds compared to the main Eastern States dairying areas.
There was a concern that the WA industry risked losing decades of locally-specific research experience and capability.
Ms MacTiernan said the new funding recognised the success of the collaboration with Western Dairy in establishing the RD+E hub and meeting local production challenges and opportunities, guided by industry.
The State government’s contribution will enable Western Dairy to attract co-investment from the Federal government, Dairy Australia and industry partners to add value to projects that increase profitability and build a long-term sustainable industry, she said.
“This funding will give our dairy farmers access to targeted technical and scientific support to continue adapting to the ongoing demands of the milk market,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“We’re seeing positive developments in the WA dairy industry in the milk processing and export sectors and it is important that industry is able to capitalise on these and other opportunities.
“Western Dairy has played a pivotal role in supporting producers with business improvement through its Dairy Farm Monitor Program, as well as exploring pasture solutions to address the challenge of the seasonal feed gap.
“Our dairy industry has demonstrated its resilience and capacity to embrace change and opportunities to provide Australian and international consumers with safe, high quality milk.”
Ms MacTiernan congratulated Western Dairy on its efforts to improve farm business skills and adoption of the latest technology.
She said the industry had undergone “an enormous re-adjustment” since she became Agriculture and Food Minister with “structural issues, contractual issues and many dairy farmers finding themselves out of contract”.
But, she said, there were signs some of the “glitches” have been resolved.
With the industry based on so many small suppliers, the ability to take collective action to redress negotiating power imbalance was an important lesson to learn, she said and it was also important “to have processors working in collaboration and co-operation with their suppliers”.
Ms MacTiernan also welcomed Brownes Dairy’s plans to reopen its Brunswick cheese production.
The potential to open up new dairy supply chains was one reason foreign investment, such as Shanghai Ground Food Tech’s purchase of Brownes last November, had been encouraged, she said.
Jindong dairy farmer and Western Dairy chairman Grant Evans thanked Ms MacTiernan for the funding.
“Continued (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development) investment in the Western Dairy RD+E hub, particularly to provide further development of our farm business services but also to provide local, quality and relevant dairy research, is gratefully received,” Mr Evans said.
“As a dairy farmer myself, I really appreciate having so much knowledge on hand at the RD+E hub and being able to pull any of it out at certain times of the year to continue to progress our farms fully.
“Our climatic and soil conditions are different enough from those on the eastern seaboard dairy region so it is important to tailor WA dairy research and science to local needs,” Mr Evans said.
The two-year new State government commitment to the RD+E hub is understood to bring it into line with Dairy Australia’s funding commitment to the hub which still has two years to run.