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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 24 May 2019

Milking cows rotary dairy

Lesley Irvine, TIA

Tasmania is a great place to dairy farm. It has a good climate, positive and skilled dairy farmers with a strong industry support network. This combination of positive factors has resulted in the Tasmanian dairy industry continuing to grow, bucking the national trend. And while there are certainly ups and downs and a wide range of profits, Tasmanian average dairy farm profitability is amongst the highest in Australia. While this is positive, it doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns about the ongoing future of our industry. The dairy industry is very different today, compared to what it was 10 years ago, and it will continue to change during the next 10 years and beyond. How do we ensure Tasmanian dairy farms are profitable into the future? This is what the new Dairy HIGH project is focused on.

Dairy HIGH is jointly funded by Dairy Australia and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA). It follows on from the Dairy On PAR project, which had a focus on closing the gap between what is theoretically possible and what is practically being achieved on farms. Dairy HIGH expands on those themes, looking at the sustainability factors that are of particular importance to Tasmanian dairy farms. These include:

  • People
  • Profit
  • Production from pasture
  • Animal welfare
  • Environment

People

Skilled people are essential to the success of any dairy farm. TIA social researchers will be talking with dairy employers and employees about the employment challenges and successes seen across the industry. These conversations will provide an up-to-date picture of employment on Tasmanian dairy farms. Given the number of large herds in Tasmania (Tasmania has the highest average herd size in Australia), the researchers are particularly interested in talking with large herd teams.

In association with the people-focussed research, Dairy HIGH provides an extension program specifically aimed at people skill development. The extension program includes:

  • Continuation of regional discussion groups
  • Pasture workshops and pasture coaching
  • Pasture measuring and monitoring boot camps
  • Development of a Pasture Masterclass
  • Seasonal field days and workshops
  • Tassie Dairy News

Profit

If dairy farms aren’t profitable, they cannot be sustainable. Benchmarking is going to be the focus for this component of the project. At this point some of you are probably rolling your eyes and groaning, because you don’t like benchmarking or are tired of hearing about benchmarking. We would love to hear from you! We want to improve our understanding of why more farmers don’t participate in benchmarking, so we hopefully can encourage more people to become involved. We know there is a lot of value in benchmarking for individual farms but currently only about 10% of Tasmanian dairy farmers participate in benchmarking.

We will continue to provide the Dairy Business of the Year Award and Share Dairy Farmer of the Year Award to highlight and promote practices that lead to profitable businesses.

Production from pasture

Having a high proportion of pasture in the diet is important in helping to achieve low cost of production. Research conducted in this component of the project will look at herd dynamics, particularly in large herds, and the impact herd dynamics have on pasture intake. Researchers will also investigate novel grazing management practices and technologies that increase individual cow pasture intakes.

Welfare

Having healthy and happy cows is something farmers want because they care about their animals. Healthy, happy cows are also important in achieving good production and profit. We also know animal welfare issues are becoming increasingly important to consumers. A consumer survey conducted by L.E.K. Consulting last year in the USA, determined a quarter of people were committed to purchasing food they considered was ethically produced. The percentage of consumers making purchasing decisions based on ethical considerations is increasing with each generation.

One aspect of dairy welfare that dairy farmers and consumers both care about improving is that of bobby calves. The first aspect of the welfare component for Dairy HIGH is to learn more about current bobby calf management and the opportunities for change. You will soon be receiving a survey in the mail – please take the time to fill this in and return it. If you don’t receive a survey by the end of May, please contact Tom Snare at Thomas.Snare@utas.edu.au or 0429 940 063 and one will be sent to you.  An online version of the survey can be accessed here. Further research and extension activities for bobby calf options will be developed based on the results of the survey.

Environment

Pasture consumption is critically important to the profitability of Tasmanian dairy farms – regardless of the farming system. Nitrogen is a nutrient applied to boost pasture growth, it is also a nutrient that can be a negative impact for the environment if not managed well. TIA researchers will be trialling organic nitrogen sources as well as investigating the ability of different pasture species to utilise the soil organic nitrogen pool.

What does the name mean?

For those who have read all of this and are wondering what Dairy HIGH means: Dairy is simply the industry we work in. HIGH stands for High Integrity Grass-Fed Herds. This recognises the high standard we set for ourselves in the dairy industry. That we aim to produce milk with integrity – milk of high quality coming from an industry that cares for its people, animals and environment. The name also highlights the importance of pasture to our industry. It doesn’t exclude other feed inputs as we know there is a wide spectrum of feeding practices on Tasmanian dairy farms. We just want to make sure the industry can maximise the pasture advantage we have in Tasmania.

The above is a brief snapshot of activities taking place in the Dairy HIGH project. We will provide more detail and updates in future issues of Tassie Dairy News.