WESTERN Dairy chairman Peter Evans has challenged milk processors to declare their medium and long-term commitments to the local dairy industry.
Mr Evans, who farms at Jindong with son Grant - also a former Western Dairy chairman - called on farmers attending last Thurday's 21st annual Dairy Information Day near Busselton, to join him in challenging processors on their commitment to the WA industry.
WA dairy farmers were some of the most efficient milk producers in the country and should be confident about the future, but many had a "serious lack of confidence", claimed Mr Evans, one of WA's most experienced farmers in dairy politics.
He has twice led Western Dairy, was WAFarmers' dairy section president 2007-12 and Australian Dairy vice chairman 2011-12.
"I think our (WA) dairy industry has the most consistent productivity in Australia," Mr Evans told about 400 farmers and dairy industry representatives attending Dairy Information Day at the Haddon family's dairy farm at Sabina River.
"We have one market that can consume more dairy products than we produce and new markets to the north with a growing taste for dairy.
"On average, we operate the largest dairy herds in the country with close to the largest per farm milk production in Australia.
"With the exception of Tasmania, our milk production has declined less than in any other region in Australia since deregulation (Australia's dairy industry was deregulated in 2000).
"In short, we've got everything going for us."
Mr Evans said in the dairy farming community there was a serious lack of confidence for the future.
"To my knowledge there has only been two new entrants to the (WA) dairy industry in the past seven years," he said.
"There is only one new dairy under construction.
"I've been unable to determine if there are any major upgrades of existing dairies at present.
"There have been several occasions in the past five years where continuity of farm (milk supply) contracts have been threatened (by processors not wanting contracted milk volumes).
"About a quarter of farms have an exit plan prepared (Western Dairy claims there are 140 dairy farms in WA, but fewer dairy farmers because some own more than one farm) and there are 15 farmers not encouraging family successions.
"With this mind, I am asking farmers here today to join me in challenging our processors to deliver consistent-quality medium and long-term commitments to the industry in the future.
"Maybe if they did that, then maybe those good farmers might think more positively about the future and encourage their children to chase their dreams, knowing there will always be a market for milk."
Mr Evans said there appeared to be increased competition for milk.
"I ask the processors, please do not let this be a short-term spike, followed by a depressing period of instability in the market.
"This becomes so detrimental to our confidence in the future," Mr Evans said as he officially declared Dairy Information Day open.
Dairy farmers have privately said they were no longer concerned about the future prospects of processor Brownes Dairy - the initiator in 2016 of moves not to take up milk supply contract options, which ultimately forced several dairy farmers out of the industry.
At that time Brownes was owned by a private equity company looking for returns on its investments.
Brownes is now owned by a Chinese dairy giant that understands the industry and allows its Perth business to make its own decisions, has expanded marketing of WA dairy products into Eastern States and last year reopened its Brunswick Junction cheese factory that is now producing award-winning cheddar cheese.
While impressed by Bega Cheese's growth and turn around of struggling dairy operations it has absorbed in Eastern States, local dairy farmers have confirmed they are yet to hear from that company on what its plans are for WA and the former Lion Dairy & Drinks processing plant in Bentley.
Bega acquired Lion's dairy operations Australia-wide last October, including its WA Masters Milk brand.
A recent WAFarmers' Regional Roundabout meeting was told some small farmers supplying the Harvey Fresh plant were unhappy.
The Harvey Fresh milk brand and processing plant at Harvey are owned by Lactalis Australia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the global French and Italian Lactalis Group.
Western Dairy's Dairy Innovation Day itinerary had originally indicated Lactalis supplier services manager northern and western, Malcolm Fechney, would present an "update" on Lactalis at noon.
While Mr Fechney attended Dairy Information Day, it was left to Western Dairy's dairy training officer and master of ceremonies on the day, Rob La Grange, to provide a brief overview of what its milk requirement for next season might be.
In his opening comments, Mr Evans also told attendees the Western Dairy board had decided data from its Dairy Farm Monitor project would not be made public for the first time in the project's seven years.
At previous Diary Information Days - held before last year's was cancelled due to COVID-19 - Western Dairy's agribusiness support contractor Kirk Reynolds had presented an annual analysis of the latest data sets from the program in which volunteer farmers anonymously provide detailed financial and operational information about their enterprises.
As recently reported in Farm Weekly, at the WAFarmers' Regional Roundabout current dairy section president Ian Noakes and immediate past president Michael Partridge told farmers attending that Dairy Farm Monitor data was "being used against us".
Processors and the State government were using data provided by only some dairy farmers as a "snapshot" of how well dairy farmers as a whole industry were doing, they claimed.
"The Dairy farm Monitor project has provided important benchmarks in the past seven years," Mr Evans acknowledged.
"Due to the relatively large participation rate from a small dairy industry, the bulk data has been seen as representative and the use of that data has been a contentious issue," he said.
"The Western Dairy board has decided in principle that bulk data in future will only be made available to (program) participants and Dairy Australia.
"I realise this is a controversial decision, but it is taken in the interests of dairy farmers who participate.
"We want to encourage more farmers to participate and we dearly want to see those farmers who have reservations about the use of data to join farmers who are currently reaping the benefits that flow from this program."
Mr Evans also introduced Western Dairy's new regional manager Julianne Hill to the crowd.
p Neville and Elaine Haddon and their son Garry explained the growth of the family's farming operation from 186 hectares "with a few sheep, some cattle and two house cows" in 1984, opposite their current homes, to the biggest dairy farm in Busselton and one of the largest in WA.
They now milk 1400 cows off a pasture platform of 1214ha, with a further 1416ha support platform spread over a number of properties in the South West.
Neville Haddon said they had "always thought the opportunity to buy the block of land next door is too good an opportunity to miss."
Elaine, who controls the farm finances, said there "was never any spare cash for 'toys', expensive holidays or cars" and her husband and son had to justify equipment purchases with improved productivity.
Garry and Neville also spoke about the farm's expansive herd shade shelters, a dairy effluent code of practice-compliant waste treatment and reuse system and massive silage storage pits.