Everything is on the table in the Australian Dairy Plan, including dismantling industry organisations such as Dairy Australia, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria annual conference on Friday was told.
Australian Dairy Farmers president Terry Richardson and Dairy Australia chair Jeff Odgers told the conference they wanted all farmers to have a say in setting the plan for the next five years.
"There is one point I want to make today is that we are laying everything on the table," Mr Riachardson said.
"We want to hear from you and we want to hear what we must do differently."
Both also said they wanted groups outside of the current industry structure, such as Farmer Power and Dairy Connect, involved in the process.
Mr Odgers took the opportunity to answer questions raised about Dairy Australia in recent media reports.
He defended the payment of bonuses to former managing director Ian Halliday, saying that these were no secret and were clearly shown in DA's annual report released last year.
We want to hear from you and we want to hear what we must do differently.
"These were set by the board back in 2014-15 and based around achieving targets around annual operating plans, investment milestones and multi-year programs," he said.
"Ian added significant value during his tenure."
He also defended DA's decision to wind down its reserves, its project assessment process and the level of staff morale.
"Contrary to media reporting, a recent staff survey has shown high levels of staff satisfaction and engagement," he said.
Under questioning from the floor, Mr Odgers said if the industry decided to dismantle Dairy Australia as part of the Dairy Plan, federal government levy-matching funding would cease and that would be "pretty catastrophic".
He said this funding enabled Dairy Australia to leverage dollars from other sources, citing DairyBio, Datagene and Dairy Feedbase as examples, with $125 million invested for the next five years.
Mr Richardson defended the appointed of former Victorian premier John Brumby as the independent chair of the Dairy Plan.
Mr Brumby's appointment had been criticised earlier in the day by a farmer involved in the Plug the Pipe campaign that had opposed Mr Brumby's government's construction of the North-South Pipeline a decade ago.
"I believe John is the right person to lead us through the Dairy Plan process," Mr Richardson said.
"He has immense experience in public life, industry and not for profit sector and a strong track record of service at all levels of the community."
When questioned on one thing he wanted the Dairy Plan to address, Mr Richardson asked whether the current industry advocacy structure needed to be changed.
"We have the same structure in place for 5500 farmers as we had for 70,000," he said.
But some farmers questioned the Dairy Plan process.
Leongatha, Vic, farmer Bernhard Lubitz said he was not against the plan, but leaders needed to provide more ideas with which farmers could engage.
"You are hoping for great things from this engagement process when since deregulation and Dairy Australia being formed, there has been a trend of disengagement of farmers with industry bodies," he said.
"You are not going to get consensus at the meetings or on the website."
Mr Odgers said at a fundamental level all they wanted was for someone to jump online for a half hour or attend a meeting for three or four hours to give their thoughts.
Mr Richardson said the one thing that would kill the plan would be apathy and he was open to suggestions on how to make it work better.
Katunga, Vic, dairy farmer Bridget Goulding said people weren't apathetic but many were struggling to keep their heads above water.
Earlier Mr Richardson had acknowledged the difficulties facing many in the industry.
"I have been a dairy farmer for many years ... and I can't recall a time when there was more stress and more anxiety than what we are experiencing now," he said.
He acknowledged that the plan needed to address the immediate issues as well as looking to the next five years.
Mr Richardson called on farmers to work together to rebuild the industry and to stop the cycle of negativity.
"The cynicism leaves us closed to new ideas, whereas optimism does increase the opportunities," he said.
"It is sad to note that the Australian industry has failed to stick together at times especially when it is difficult, when unity is most important."
Mr Odgers also acknowledged declining farm profitability.
The industry had taken a double hit of shorter and deeper dairy commodity cycles overlayed with more extreme and volatile seasons.
"Volatility in market and climate has been increasing for some time," he said.
Both Mr Richardson and Mr Odgers committed to enacting the plan.
"We are determined to not let this plan gather dust on the shelf," Mr Richardson said.
"What sets it apart from everything else that has come before is that we will set measurable targets to mark our own progress."
This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer