WA’s dairy industry’s prospects “can only go up” and “what up looks like is up to you” were messages for Western Dairy’s Young Dairy Network last week.
They were delivered by 2012 WA Rural Woman of the Year, foundation chief executive officer of the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association, WA project manager of the Co-operative Research Centre for Northern Australia, founder of Influential Women and passionate agriculture advocate, Catherine Marriott.
“You need to be proactive, not reactive, you are the next generation of leadership in the dairy industry and you need to bring others with you,” Ms Marriott told 17 young dairy farmers and farm workers at Bunbury last Friday.
She urged them to get used to “turbulence” in the industry, to have a clear purpose and to be persistent.
In any industry like dairy with exposure to external factors “plain sailing is a myth”, she said.
Ms Marriott used shooting down of Malaysian flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 as an example.
It triggered trade sanctions with Russia so European dairy manufacturers dumped product, previously destined for Russia, into Asian markets targeted by Australia.
In turn, shrinking markets led to over-production of milk in Australia and ultimately forced local dairy farmers out of the industry two years later.
Ms Marriott asked Young Dairy Network members to analyse what they loved about the industry, why they were part of it and what strengths they could offer it.
“You can’t all go to Canberra to talk to politicians, you can’t all talk to processors about price and you can’t all talk to consumers about why WA needs a local dairy industry,” Ms Marriott said.
“But you need to be clear on message, you need to put a strong team together and you need to harness the individual strengths of your team members to do those things effectively for you,” she said.
While the dairy industry was going through a difficult period targeted by animal activists, with low returns from milk and high feed costs and Coles and Aldi supermarket chains refusing to join Woolworths in dropping $1-a-litre milk, she urged Young Dairy Network members to be persistent and not become disillusioned.
“The industry needs young blood and fresh ideas,” she said.
“Don’t let the old buggers put you off, don’t listen to that little doubter voice in your head.
“From where it is now, the dairy industry can only go up and what up looks like is up to you.”
Ms Marriott said no other industry would accept Coles’ and Aldi’s excuse of “some consumers can’t afford to pay more” for continuing to undervalue dairy farmers’ skills and hard work by maintaining $1-a-litre milk.
It would be up to young leaders in the industry to help find a way around this problem and to prevent it reoccurring, she said.
Ms Marriott offered some tips from her experiences in dealing with people, advocating for agriculture and working in an industry attracting attention from activists – she worked in the live cattle trade in Malaysia when the industry was shut down in 2011.
When talking to consumers they must “use common language city people with little or no connection to dairy understand”, not the technical or industry terms they use talking to each other, she pointed out.
They should “tell your own story, not let the activists tell it for you”, she said.
When dealing with politicians it is more effective to seek support for a possible solution than take a problem to them.
“You need to make them look good,” Ms Marriott advised.
When talking to other farmers her advice was “don’t whinge”.