THE FIRST round of consultations into the development of a new national dairy plan has generated a large amount of feedback from more than 1000 people.
Dairy Plan chairman John Brumby will have the job of sifting through the comments to get a grip on the concerns of the nation's dairy farmers.
Mr Brumby, a former Victorian treasurer and premier who left politics more than eight years ago, is preparing for stage three of the project, which includes national workshops involving dairy farmers, their representative bodies, processors, investors and industry experts.
Mr Brumby has had some involvement in agriculture over the years but does not count himself as one of the dairy experts.
He was appointed to head the investigation by a group of industry leaders who were applying best practice approaches in planning and development and wanted to find an independent chairperson.
"I think there was a resolve to find someone who had no allegiance to one group or another or who would favour one over another," Mr Brumby said.
He intends to apply the skills in planning and strategies he has accumulated over years in political life.
And why would he choose to accept a job when the industry is facing such huge challenges?
"I've always had a passion for regional development, and the dairy industry is such a critical part of our regional economic and community landscape," he said.
"I can't imagine a regional Australia without a dairy industry.
"When you think about Australian manufacturing today there are not many things we are making or producing any more and selling overseas.
"We are producing milk on farms, adding value to that and turning it into infant milk formula, cheese and yoghurts.
"I think that's an important issue.
"We need to get this right for our regions."
The Dairy Plan — set up by Dairy Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Dairy Products Federation and Gardiner Dairy Foundation — is expecting to have a report completed by the end of the year, and Mr Brumby said he expected to be able to meet that deadline.
He said the summaries produced from the 23 workshops held around Australia have produced about 10 to 15 common issues.
"In some areas, where farmers are under intense cost-price pressures, the issues have been around those costs, and in other regions the discussions have been around medium and longer term issues for the industry."
He pointed to the Nanango meeting in Queensland, where milk prices and costs were high on the agenda, while in Mt Gambier there was more focus on issues like marketing, education and the value of milk.
Mr Brumby acknowledged that one common issue was the need for strong advocacy for the industry
"For many farmers, they are caught in a perfect storm of costs pressures and prices, and it's causing terrible pain.
"They want someone to help them and value their industry."
The industry has set aside about $900 000 for the development of the plan