Finding a dairy future in Australia

By Country News on August 12, 2016
  • Finding a dairy future in Australia

    Michelle and Michael Axford on a cold Outtrim day in July.

Canadian embraces the industry's ups and downs in Gippsland. 

Dairy farms in Canada and South Gippsland are very different businesses — and the climate is just the start of it.

The Ontario farm that Michelle Axford grew up on is reasonably large for a family farm, with 90 milkers living under cover year-round.

But it’s the economics of the Canadian dairy market where the biggest difference to the Australian industry can be seen.

A quota system restricts production and the ability to increase farm size. On the flip side of that is a milk price that most Australian dairy farmers can only dream of.

“Production per cow is terrific, they can feed cows really well and they have a very high milk price in the order of 83 cents per litre,” Mrs Axford said.

“That’s driven by Canada not importing or exporting anything, so what is produced in Canada is consumed in Canada.

“It’s a high milk price, but it’s high for a fortunate few. If you don’t happen to be the son or daughter of a dairy farmer, and you don’t inherit quota, the chances of you being able to start a dairy farm are very limited.”

With two of her brothers taking over the family quota, Mrs Axford had little or no chance of getting into dairy farming in Canada. But a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (with Honours) and a Masters in Ruminant Nutrition ensured she was able to stay in the world of farming.

Meeting future husband Michael during his farmer exchange to Canada in the mid-1990s started a global romance that has ended up in a marriage, two children (Andrea and Chris) and life on the Axford family dairy farm at Outtrim, south of Korumburra.

While Mr Axford does the bulk of the farm work, Mrs Axford does the bookwork, helps out during calving and puts her years in academia to good use as extension and education manager for the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme.

It’s a role she is passionate about and one she believes can make a real difference to farm profitability.

“We help farmers build more profitable herds through the use of better genetics,” she said.

“It is absolutely clear that every extra unit of genetic merit you add into your herd is really meaningful in terms of kilos of milk solids produced and the longevity of the cow.

“If we have cows that are producing more for longer, that is a profitable system to set up. It’s crystal clear that this stuff works.”

While Mrs Axford believes the science behind the genetic program stacks up, she also realises improvement can only come once farmers buy into it.

“Our job is to tell as many people as we can about it and to help make the decisions on their farms easier,” she said.

“It’s about having a more profitable cow and a more fertile cow, so we overall have less waste on our farm.”

By Country News on August 12, 2016

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