Industry advocacy faces a balancing act

By Dairy News

Industry advocacy is rising to the surface as the industry moves closer to adopting a new national dairy plan, but the sensitive nature of the beast reared its head last month.

In all the workshops held around the country, dairy farmers have been saying they want better advocacy to represent them.

This is a challenging issue and one that the old hands will say: “We’ve heard it all before − farmers want more informed, aggressive representation, but they want someone else to do it, and they don’t want to pay for it through industry memberships.”

Well, the issue is coming to a head now, and it will soon be time to put the cards on the table, as the Joint Transition Team is expected to recommend an advocacy model by the end of November.

What do farmers want their representation to look like, and who will do it?

Will they simply want a tougher approach, or will they accept a consultative model based on agreement and negotiation?

Terry Richardson who heads the peak industry body, the Australian Dairy Farmers, got something of a lashing when he made a statement about supporting the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and the ferocity of the response indicated just how delicate the balance in representing an industry can be.

The ADF and many other industry bodies actually support the goals of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which attempts to restore the balance of environmental and consumptive demands. Most people probably would, but it is becoming clearer that the outworking of the plan is causing major headaches for irrigating dairy farmers, some of whom have experienced the ridiculous situation of seeing their back-paddocks flooded from environmental flows, during a drought, while they can’t get an irrigation allocation.

And they also witness the hundreds of gigalitres going downstream to prop up a freshwater lake in South Australia, when science has already raised a question over whether the lake is actually more estuarine, than fresh.

And the Victorians are wondering why every drop taken from a river or channel has to be measured when some irrigators in other states don’t have metering.

So, when a dairy leader talks about supporting the basin plan, there is an inevitable fiery response, indicating just how delicate the balance can be, between leadership, and representation.

Between now and next year, dairy farmers will have to give some solid thought to how they want to be represented, and what kind of leadership they want.