Dairy farming is one of the most environmentally sustainable farming systems, with large swaths of land and huge quantities of water available for cultivation.
But with the world’s most popular dairy farm, located in Queensland’s north-west, expected to be closed down by the end of the year, there is talk that the country’s largest dairy industry could face extinction.
Dairy farmers in Australia are struggling to feed themselves and their families, and are now seeing their ability to produce food for themselves and the wider community threatened by climate change.
The Australian Dairy Industry Association is pushing to save the iconic Queensland cow farm.
Photo: Pat Scala There are some signs that the dairy industry’s future in Australia is on the brink of being lost.
In December, it was reported that the world would need to import almost a third of the countrys supply of dairy products to meet the demand of the world.
Australia’s largest beef and dairy producer, Murrayfield, is also planning to close its dairy farm and is likely to see its cows die of disease from over-fishing.
“We’re just seeing a real problem in the dairy market,” said Paul Williams, the head of the Australian Dairy Industries Association.
“There’s no longer a real opportunity to farm the cattle that we do.”
As well as facing the prospect of their milk and milk products drying up, some farmers have expressed concern about the health of their animals and how the climate is changing.
The Cow Barley Group, a dairy producer based in Perth, has already had to cancel a series of trials with a cow farmer in the northern Queensland town of Port Phillip because of severe drought.
The trials were to give dairy farmers in the region a glimpse of how the future might look.
“The trials were the first in a number of years where we have had to suspend some of our operations and that has been very concerning to us,” said the Cow Barleys’ executive director, Jim Williams.
“It is just a concern we feel the dairy is losing the most as a consequence of climate change.”
The Cow Bakers Association of Australia is planning to set up a climate-controlled, grass-fed cow pasture in Port Phillip in 2017, with the hope of bringing the industry back to life.
But for the Cow Bakes Association, this is not an option as the grass-farming process would be too difficult and the cattle could suffer from disease.
The climate is not ideal, as the soil in the area is too dry, but the group’s dairy farmer, Bob Kelly, said that although the grass is a more environmentally sustainable option than grazing, it does not offer a long-term solution.
“In a grass-based environment we’re able to produce a lot more milk than in a conventional pasture,” Mr Kelly said.
“I think we could be looking at 10 to 20 per cent more milk production over the next five to 10 years.”
Farmers in Queensland have also been concerned about the impact climate change has had on the region.
“You’ve got a lot of people in the north-east of the state who are very concerned about their future, that climate change is putting stress on the environment,” Mr Williams said.
Farmers are also concerned about what would happen if climate change were to affect the state’s water resources.
“If we start getting some of these water shortages, that could cause some really big problems for our water system,” Mr Wilson said.
The Queensland government is hoping to introduce a new water management scheme this year that will ensure that the state has enough water for both farming and the broader community.
The scheme will also see the state re-invest in its water infrastructure and reduce the amount of water required for irrigation.
“One of the big things we’re looking at is water efficiency and how we can conserve water, and how much water is used for agriculture,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
A new drought-resistant cattle breed has also been developed by the Department of Agriculture to help farmers cope with future drought.
Photo by Pat Scala The Cowbakers Association says it is looking forward to the scheme’s introduction, but has reservations about its potential impact on the future sustainability of the dairy farming industry.
“Farmers need to be able to get water for their cattle to grow,” Mr Davis said.
He said it was not the right time for the scheme to be introduced.
“That’s not the time to introduce that into the industry at this time,” he said.
There have been other changes in the state over the past few years that have affected the dairy sector.
In September, the government announced it would be giving farmers the right to farm up to 1,000 hectares of agricultural land a year.
That decision has been criticised by farmers, who say it will give farmers an unfair advantage over other growers.
The Government has also proposed allowing the sale of up to 30 hectares of farmland, which farmers say would give them a huge amount of land to farm.
However, Mr Williams fears