LIFE OF DAIRY: Maidenwell dairy farmer Sandra Dagan believes there is a bright future for those in dairy.
LIFE OF DAIRY: Maidenwell dairy farmer Sandra Dagan believes there is a bright future for those in dairy. Rhiannon Tuffield

A good time for fresh milk for South Burnett dairy farmers

IN AN industry that is known to fluctuate, the past season for South Burnett dairy farmers has improved by a mile, according to one farmer.

While a career in dairy is no easy exploit, Maidenwell dairy farmer Sandra Dagan said there was no better time to be involved.

Mrs Dagan, who runs an operation outside of Maidenwell with her husband Keith, said she was happy with how the past season had turned out.

"It's been pretty great," Mrs Dagan said.

"We haven't had too much rain but it's been good enough to get some crops in with some forage for the cattle, put some forage away and almost fill the hay shed.

"Up until Christmas it hadn't been real good at all, and then I think we were under a couple of storms and were one of the lucky ones."

According to Dairy Australia, the Australian dairy industry is worth $13 billion with more than 6000 Australian dairy farmers producing 9.7 billion litres of milk per year.

There are around 500 Queensland dairy farms producing about 500,000 litres of milk.

Despite the challenges posed by deregulation and wild weather, farm gate prices have generally remained steady and overall the season has been reasonable for farmers.

Towards the end of last year, there was good news when the Global Dairy Trade (GDT) index started to climb after falling to a five year low in September 2015.

Despite a lucky season, Mrs Dagan said she had faced many challenges in her 25 years in the industry.

Moving from the city and taking on a new project had the Dagans only just keep their heads above water.

While the family faced high interest rates, drought, low milk prices and the cost of running a new farm on little money, they remained loyal and worked hard.

But Mrs Dagan said many others lost faith.

"Lots of farmers have gone since we started," Mrs Dagan said.

"Since 1991, we've seen farmers go all around the place."

In her time, Mrs Dagan estimated around two-thirds of dairy farmers had vanished from the South Burnett and Darling Downs regions.

"A lot of people struggled with deregulation, the price of milk and drought," she said.

"It's taken a bit of a toll.

"Dairy farming is not a bad industry; it's just very price-orientated and the weather is your biggest contributor."

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has tipped the value of Australian farm production will surpass $60 billion for the first time next year.

Australian farmgate milk price is forecast to rise by 3%, reflecting farmer demand for dairy products from major importing countries.

Australian dairy exporters are likely to continue to benefit from a relatively weak currency into 2016.

The Australian market remained a steady outlet for more than half on the industry's milk, and sales grew incrementally throughout February, Dairy Australia said.

Supermarket trends remain mixed with dairy spread continuing to grow strongly, cheese steady but yoghurt and dairy snack volumes continue to decline.

While the wealth may have provided a late January/early February reprieve, the fierce European market and sluggish demand from key markets look set to limit any recovery in international markets for some time to come.

As a result, Australian farmers are likely to see pricing remain constrained for the near future.

The stability of the domestic market, the trend towards value adding for export, and some input cost relief will all prove valuable as the Australian industry plays the long game in the months ahead.

"We definitely need some more rain - Mother Nature has not been kind to us lately, but I suppose we're not really kind to her either," Mrs Dagan said.

"You can sort capital things yourself, but it's hard to predict what the weather's going to do.

"You just have to work with it and work your way around it."

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