Familiar face outlines agenda

By Stephen Cooke

NEW DAIRY Australia Managing Director David Nation is a familiar face to dairy farmers.

Unlike his predecessor, Ian Halliday, who was appointed to the top role from the food manufacturing sector, Mr Nation was CEO of the industry research program, Dairy Futures CRC, was Co-Director of its successor, DairyBio, and has been heavily involved with the Dairy Feedbase project.

He had been in his new role for a month when he spoke to Dairy News Australia. In that time he had been learning about other aspects of the business.

“That’s been one of the joys of the first month, to understand the whole of the business,” he said, citing trade and consumer marketing as vital areas of both Dairy Australia and the industry.

“Dairy Australia is a well-established organisation and one of the challenges it has is there are lots of different components to it. The challenge is how to respect and reflect on all those roles and make sure they are as good as they can be, while also taking a bigger look and saying for the industry to be really confident about its future, and to be as strong as it can be, what are the most important things we need to do over the next 3–5 years.

“For me that’s the big starting challenge in this role.”

It’s little surprise that the short-term goal for Mr Nation and Dairy Australia is the current feed shortage.

“We see it as being of such significance that every part of our organisation is responding to it and that includes all eight RDPs,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what part of Australia you’re in, we see this feed shortage playing out for the next 12–18 months and seeing it affecting everybody.”

Mr Nation said DA would use “the strength of the eight RDPs, because this is playing out quite differently in each region”. He said there were three areas of focus:

  • Those in drought, including NSW, Queensland and East Gippsland in particular.
  • “These areas are short of soil moisture and options. Farmers have organised their own intensive support in many ways but if they haven’t, we ask what can we do to help? What opportunities are out there and what intensive support can we offer?”
  • The broader Murray Irrigation area, which also has soil moisture issues, as well as availability and cost issues of irrigation water. 

“We are looking at how we can help. It almost requires a drought like response now.”
Areas not in drought and with reasonable levels of soil moisture. 
“If you have soil moisture, what can you do to set yourself up to have as much of a pasture wedge ahead of you for the next 12 months? How do you make spring count?”

The current strategic plan has 12 months to run and Mr Nation said preparation for the new plan will help DA prioritise its long-term goals.

“There are two parallel conversations going on — how do we do the best job we can in the short term, given where the industry is at, and where does DA need to set itself up to have a big role in industry so the industry can continue to be a big success in future.

“I’m really careful not to pre-empt what this is. This will be as inclusive a process as possible to find out what farmers collectively think are the most important things we can do.”

Mr Nation said he is currently configuring the best way to give farmers a voice.

“My expectation is we’ll be really active in the new year; spring is not the time to ask farmers where we need to go.

“Hopefully we’ll create an environment where farmers can give really well informed feedback on the most important things we need to do. We want to gain consensus of 3–5 important things we need to.”

Mr Nation said one of the most important areas of focus, and also one of which he had less understanding before taking on the role, is the ongoing requirement for support in trade.

“I didn’t fully comprehend how exposed dairy is as a commodity on a world market,” he said.

“Processors have to work really hard, and the trade group has to work really hard, to stay on top of global trends and global opportunities in trade.

“As an anecdote, one of the ways it was described to me, was dairy is one of the last things discussed in a trade agreement because it is often one of the hardest. That speaks loudly. International trade doesn’t just happen, it happens because a lot of dedicated people put effort into excelling in that space.”

Mr Nation said he has inherited a strong R&D portfolio and work will continue to ensure research in feed, animal improvement and genetics is correctly targeted. DA will also continue to invest in regionally targeted research, with programs in Queensland, Tasmania and WA.

The Queensland Dairyfarmers Organisation used the change of CEO to call on DA for more research targeted for northern farmers.

“I’ve met with QDO recently,” Mr Nation said, “and we need to acknowledge the important work with Gatton (research facility owned by State Government).

“There’s substantial research happening within Queenlsand and it is absolutely attuned with the highest priority in Queensland, which is how do you increase forage quality.

“So there’ some really neat work already happening in Queensland and to be fair, it has a substantial national role as well. The size of the project in Queensland is very substantial if you contrast it to the size of Queensland as a dairy industry.

“It’s something all Queenslanders should be really proud of.”

Mr Nation said there are other areas that research can focus on in Queensland but these are similar to what the Subtropical Dairy has on its work program.

“To get that strategic input from both Subtropical Dairy and the QDO is a really important thing,” he said.