Dairy farmers welcome draft mandatory dairy code of conduct

Farmers are embracing plans for a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry, highlighting fundamental problems facing the sector.

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Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced a draft code this week, saying it would give farmers more power.

“A mandatory code will be an industry-defining moment so I want all dairy farmers, processors, and stakeholders to stay involved in shaping it,” he said in a statement.

Mr Littleproud’s announcement comes after a series of roadshows around the country with farmers, processors, and others in the industry.

The draft code will ban retrospective price cuts and exclusive supply deals, and introduce a dispute resolution process.

What is in the draft code?

Phil Ryan milks 200 cows on his farm in the Bega Valley of New South Wales and said he was pleased to see the draft plan released.

“I’m glad that something’s happening but this really is only good if it’s the first step in a journey of industry reform that needs to be continued and completed quickly,” he said.

“The code of conduct addresses a few really important potential risks for dairy farmers, particularly retrospective step downs and ‘tier-two pricing’, where excess milk is priced at a very low price below the cost of production.”

The most significant change would see a dramatic shift to the way processors announced their farm gate milk price.

The proposed code will force processors on a set date each year to reveal a standard contract and minimum price paid for milk.

Farmers have long complained about complicated contracts, loyalty payments, and delaying tactics used by processors ahead of announcing the opening milk price each year.

Fears code will be ‘watered down’

The chief lobby group for New South Wales dairy farmers hopes processors will not try and have the Federal Government’s draft mandatory dairy code of conduct watered down.

Dairy Connect president, and Gloucester dairy farmer, Graham Forbes said he was worried the code would face pressure from processors.

“Let’s hope those things are not going to be watered down; that’s what we have to be careful of,” he said.

“I believe processors will be sitting there putting as much pressure on as they can because they are used to doing that.

“Certainly we don’t believe that it will be onerous on the industry — there was some comment that it was going to impact on costs.

“I think it a fallacy that the costs will impose on the industry.”

What is not in draft code?

Farmers are disappointed the code does not address issues raised in the consultation meetings held around the country.

“It doesn’t address a lot of other things that have basically been put in a ‘too hard basket’,” Mr Ryan said.

“Things like long-term farmgate milk price reform, the potential for an industry ombudsman, and milk swaps between processors.

“These are things that the dairy farmers across Australia really need [addressed].”

The draft code of conduct is focused on the relationship between farmers and processors, which means a number of suggestions have been deemed outside its scope.

Milk swapping between processors will not be addressed, despite frustrated farmers who believe it undermines competition among processors.

However, processors have long claimed that ‘milk swapping’ allows for companies to create transport efficiencies and is required in some instances to manage the perishable nature of raw milk.

Cheap supermarket milk not covered by code

The ongoing battle against supermarkets selling $1 per litre milk and other deals between supermarkets and processors will also not be addressed in the draft code.

“It doesn’t address probably the gorilla in the room which is the relationship between retailers and processors,” Mr Ryan said.

“That’s a really important part that’s essentially been left to the grocery code of conduct, which I don’t think works very well for farmers.”

Mr Forbes believes the draft code is a start but there work still needs to be done, such as in collective bargaining.

“Basically, at the moment the processors are in a take-it-or-leave-it mode in that regard,” he said.

Mr Forbes believes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should be involved in mediation of disputes.

“An ombudsman would be able to assist farmers and processors in being able to work things forward and come up with a mutually acceptable arrangement,” he said.

Public consultation sessions will continue to be held over the next few weeks and submissions are open till February 15.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-01

Grain harvest on east coast eclipsed by Victorian town of Nhill

The western Victorian town of Nhill has supplied more grain to one of the country’s largest handlers than all of Queensland combined.

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With a population of about 2,000 people, GrainCorp’s receival site at Nhill has brought in more than 150,000 tonnes, compared to almost 108,000 tonnes in all of Queensland.

The company’s final harvest report reveals drought conditions continue to decimate grain figures on the eastern seaboard, while farmers in Victoria’s west have experienced a good harvest.

Brett Wheaton farms 26 kilometres north west of Nhill and supplies some of his yields to GrainCorp.

He said grower confidence in Victoria’s far west was increasing.

“We have had a fantastic season compared to others, and considering on my property we have had frost, a lack of rain and a few other issues, you’d have to say most farmers would be pretty happy with how it has ended up,” he said.

Mr Wheaton sits on the Nhill Growers Committee and said they had estimated for up to 90,000 tonnes of grain to be supplied to the Nhill site.

“We have almost doubled that and there’s a lot of people storing grain on their farms too, so that figure at GrainCorp isn’t all the grain from the region,” he said.

The previous harvest was also a great one for western Victoria, with GrainCorp’s final harvest report from 2017-18 revealing Nhill brought in almost 180,000 tonnes.

“Machinery does date and wear out and you can replace that if you have funds available, and this is a year where we should have that,” Mr Wheaton said.

“Most people would be thankful for what they got this year and go into the next year with confidence.”

GrainCorp’s general manager of operations Nigel Lotz said the Nhill receival site was a standout across the company’s network.

Grain numbers decimated on eastern coast

It’s a different story for the country’s east, with GrainCorp’s final harvest numbers revealing ongoing drought conditions have greatly impacted yields.

The company brought in 107,900 tonnes of grain to its Queensland sites from last year’s winter crop.

That figure is less than a fifth of the amount of grain the company received during the previous harvest.

It was a similarly bleak picture in New South Wales, with grain harvest numbers dropping by a third.

Despite strong yields in western Victoria, figures across the entire state had halved from the previous harvest.

Mr Lotz said due to a high domestic demand for grain, it was unlikely the company would be able to export much hay this year.

“There’s a deficit of grain on the east coast — we’ve got a huge domestic demand, so our exportable surplus is not going to be there,” he said. “A lot of this grain will stay on the east coast.”

Bakers Delight affected by grain shortage

Meanwhile, Australia’s biggest bakery franchise said it was expecting increases in the cost of flour to be passed onto customers in the coming weeks, as stores across the country respond to a poor harvest.

Bakers Delight chief executive David Christie said the franchise was working to manage a 22 per cent hike in the price of flour as a result.

“You’ve got customers, you’ve got small business owners, and you’ve got suppliers and farmers — in the perfect situation, everyone shares the burden and waits for the better times to return,” he said.

“We locked in a flour price of about a 22 per cent increase on the previous year — that became effective from the first of January and will flow through until the next harvest, which hopefully is a much better one.”

Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said providing enough grain to associated industries was now a focal point.

“We did know that a bad season was on the cards, but now we are obviously concerned for all of our associated industries to have enough grain to meet their demand through 2019,” he said.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-01

Extreme temperatures burn stone fruit from inside out

Extreme heat in South Australia is leading to heavy losses for stone fruit growers, with produce burning from the inside out.

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Dried Tree Fruits Australia chairman Kris Werner, who grows stone fruit at his property in Waikerie, between Adelaide and Mildura, said many growers were losing their fruit to ‘stone burn’ due to the heat.

“The stone burns them, which means they burn on the inside, they become squashy and you can’t use them,” Mr Werner said.

The extreme heat has cost Renmark stone fruit grower and packer Dino Cerrachi up to 30 per cent of some stone fruit varieties this season.

“It’s extremely hot and we are expecting 46, possibly 47 degrees [Celsius],” he said.

“There will be quite a lot of damage from direct sunlight, especially on the north-western side of the trees, or any exposed areas at the wrong time of that sun position.

“Basically, it just sort of cooks that side or that part of the fruit that has the direct sunlight for a length of time and it gives you an impression that it is soft, but it has actually gone jammy from being cooked.”

Race against time to get fruit of trees before extreme heat

Mr Cerrachi said he is racing against the clock, trying to get as much fruit off the trees as possible, before the extreme heat hits throughout the day.

“We are harvesting peaches and nectarines, both white and yellow, and we only have from daybreak until about 10.30-11 o’clock to pick all of that fruit and five varieties,” he said.

“We have got a lot of ground to cover in a very short time … it’s already too late to be picking peaches at this point in time because the skin is very sensitive, and they will show up all sorts of markings.”

Mr Cerrachi said he had tried to increase his workforce to get as much fruit off the trees as possible, but struggled to find experienced workers.

“We need experienced people and often when you look for more they haven’t got the experience, but we need to get more people and try to get it off [the fruit] as quickly as possible,” he said.

“However, the fruit that we actually put into the boxes is still of very high quality and that is one thing that we are extremely happy about, that the fruit that does make it through is of very good eating quality.”

Growers have to use more water to keep trees cool

Mr Werner said they increased their water usage to keep the trees cool, which was a worry moving into next season.

“Our concern is that there won’t be a big allocation next season and we wanted to try and carry some water forward, so it just means we won’t have water to carry forward, so we have to buy it,” Mr Werner said.

“The biggest concern is that these temperatures are actually occurring because the last drought and water buyback means a third of the land around us isn’t being watered anymore, so it’s only going to make the temperatures get hotter.”

Mr Werner said they were finding that the quality of dried apricots was impacted as the increased watering of the trees washed the sugar out of the fruit.

“You can’t get sugar into it because you have to have that six to eight day cycle where you have the drying and the wetting, and because it is so hot you are keeping them fairly wet constantly,” he said.

“The sugar just doesn’t get a chance to get into the fruit, so the flavour is not going to be there.”

Mr Cerrachi said the high temperatures caused the trees to shut down and water was essential to prevent further fruit damage.

“What happens when it shuts down, it seems to slow down the ripening process,” he said. “It’s just so hot that the trees go into saving itself mode.

“But we’re just very happy to continue to supply a very high-quality fruit, be it nectarines or peaches, even though we have a lot of waste.”

Source: ABC Rural 2019-01

Internet of Things rain gauge sends climate data to the cloud

A rain gauge that sends rainfall data to ‘the cloud’ in real time could transform the way climate data is collected and used.

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That is according to James Cook University (JCU) professor Wei Xiang who has been working in conjunction with CSIRO to develop the gauge.

Professor Xiang said the gauge used wireless connectivity to send information, making the need for a data logger unnecessary.

Interaction between devices is known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and can be used to connect household appliances, cars, and smartphones to each other.

“The problem with using the traditional rain gauge is that firstly, you don’t have real-time access to the data and secondly, it is very expensive if you want to record high resolution data,” Professor Xiang said.

“All you need is a very cheap Internet of Things wireless transceiver to send the data to the cloud.”

Cloud gauge could be game changer for farmers

Checking and emptying the rain gauge is a daily job for North Queensland farmer Paul Mizzi.

With properties spread across the Hinchinbrook Shire, Mr Mizzi’s simple job can take an hour out of his day and during the wet season, he often can not reach gauges in some paddocks for days.

For farmers like him, JCU’s high-tech rain gauge could be a game changer — allowing them to make more accurate decisions about their operations from the comfort of their home.

“But he only gets that information once he gets there and he records it.

“I’m hoping we could get more accurate information for when we are harvesting, so we know exactly what’s going on before we actually get out there.”

Mr Mizzi said he was keen to see the outcome of the trials and would consider upgrading to that kind of gauge on his properties.

Internet of Things empowers agriculture, citizen scientists

The high-tech rain gauge has been developed over six months and is being tested in Innisfail in north Queensland, one of Australia’s wettest regions.

It is expected the device will be able to collect and transmit data even in remote or inaccessible locations.

Professor Xiang said the low cost of the technology made high-resolution rainfall data affordable for farmers and citizen scientists.

James Cook University’s Internet of Things engineering degree was the first in Australia to specialise in IoT.

Professor Xiang said the department was very focussed on developing technologies that were potentially useful.

“Overall the IoT is very applied research, which means everything we do, we want to have an impact on society, on industry, on the community,” Professor Xiang said.

“We want to see people using our technology to see the real benefits and this rain gauge is just one of the examples.”

Source: ABC 2019-01

Heatwaves wash over livestock country

Livestock producers have been urged to closely monitor animals as severe to extreme heatwave conditions wash over large parts of the country.

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Livestock producers have been urged to closely monitor animals as severe to extreme heatwave conditions wash over large parts of the country from central Australia to the southeast.

Cattle and sheep’s drinking requirements can triple in the sort of conditions forecast, livestock advisors and consultants said.

Another key thing producers should be looking out for is cattle attempting to immerse themselves in water becoming bogged in muddy areas.

“With dams receding due to drought conditions, boggy edges are widespread at the moment and could pose a potential threat,” NSW Department of Primary Industries beef development officer Todd Andrews said.

Black coated cattle, any late calves and any animals that have been sick or have a previous history of respiratory disease are particularly vulnerable.

All states and territories except Tasmania have areas where the temperature is due to rise well into the 40s from now until the weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting daytime temperatures of up to 12 degrees Celsius above average and 10 degrees higher than usual at night.

Outside the band of severe and extreme conditions, widespread low intensity heat waves will affect most inland parts.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the warmest 15 places on the planet this week were all in Australia.

Tarcoola in inland South Australia reached a whopping 49.1 degrees while Yulara in the Northern Territory hit 46.1.

Sheep and crop producer David Quince, “Tambar Vale” at Tambar Springs in the NSW North West Slopes, describes the 45 degree days on his property for the past week as “sauna like.”

The forecast for Tambar Springs has been even hotter.

It’s not quite a record – “Tambar Vale” has hit 50 degrees before – but Mr Quince said he’s never seen his country so decimated for so long.

Only three of his 26 dams have water at the moment, and only very small amounts, so his Dorper sheep don’t have their usual swimming holes for cooling.

“Instead I’m pulling them out of troughs,” Mr Quince said.

“At least in conditions like this they don’t require the same feed intake, so they are basically grazing early morning then the rest of the time parking themselves in the shade.”

Government livestock advisors urged producers to ensure the location of water is familiar to animals before the extreme heat arrives.

Agriculture Victoria says the best type of shelter during extreme heat protects animals from the sun and allows for the cooling effect of wind.

Avoid handling stock. Research has shown that movement or handling of cattle during hot weather can increase their body temperature by 0.5 to 3.5 degrees.

Source: Farm Weekly 2019-01

‘Drought, climate change, mismanagement’ and Menindee fish

Over a million fish floating belly up on the Darling River at Menindee has thrown doubt over the management of the Murray-Darling Basin.

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Experts say irrigators are taking too much water from the system, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has mismanaged water flows.

But New South Wales Water Minister Niall Blair says drought is to blame.

With more fish likely to die, here’s what we know about the mass deaths and what some independent experts have had to say.

Where are fish dying?

A million fish were found dead at Menindee Lakes last week.

It’s a series of seven lakes fed by the Darling River, about 90 kilometres south-east of Broken Hill in western New South Wales.

Then a smaller kill of about 60 fish was reported at Lake Hume yesterday, on the NSW-Victoria border. But the cause of that kill is still unclear.

What killed the fish?

A variety of factors were at play at Menindee. Water levels were very low, the system had stopped flowing, and temperatures were high after a long spell of hot weather.

This created ideal conditions for blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) to grow, and it “bloomed” out of control.

But it wasn’t the algae that killed the fish.

A cold front hit the region, which dropped the water temperature in the river, killing the algal bloom.

The bacteria that feeds on dying algae then exploded out of control, and sucked all the oxygen from the water.

When the oxygen levels dropped too low, the fish drowned.

So who or what is to blame?

The blame game began almost immediately after the Menindee fish kill was reported.

Farmers Rob McBride and Dick Arnold, whose video of dead Murray cod went viral, pointed the finger at cotton growers and politicians.

But others blame mismanagement by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), and the NSW Government blames drought.

The big question is: why was the river in such a state that a blue-green algae outbreak of this scale could occur?

Here’s what four experts working in the fields of river ecology, policy, management and economics told us.

Expert in water economics, environment and policy

Adjunct Professor John Williams from the Australian National University said you couldn’t blame the drought.

“To manage a river you’ve got to be able to manage it through a drought without killing all the fish,” Professor Williams said.

“We didn’t put enough environmental water aside, and then we’ve continually eroded the little we did allocate with the recent amendments both in the north and to the south.”

Environmental water is water set aside to be released into the river system when needed.

In 2018, the Turnbull government won support from Labor to amend the amount of environmental water allocated to the system, while the Greens and some senators were opposed.

The amendments cut 605 billion litres a year that were allocated from the southern basin’s environmental water flows, and 70 billion litres a year from the northern basin’s flows.

Professor Williams said if more environmental water was allocated to the system, it could be used in times of drought to help flush the system, reduce nutrient levels, help drop water temperatures and oxygenate the water.

“Yes, it is hard to manage rivers like the Darling through drought, but that’s Australia. If you haven’t got a management plan that can manage the water through drought in the Darling, you haven’t got a plan,” he said.

“We’re taking a hell of a lot of water out. We had good flows 18 months ago.

“We want working rivers, we want irrigation, but we need to know how much we can take and regulate it pretty strongly.”

Expert in conservation biology, wetland and river management

Professor Richard Kingsford from the University of New South Wales said farmers and irrigators were suffering from the drought, but water management was a big issue.

“Certainly the drought is a contributing factor. The bigger issue is that this has been coming for a long time in the Darling,” he said.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve reduced flows coming into the Menindee lakes from upstream and down the Darling by almost 50 per cent. And it means there’s less water in the river than there used to be.”

As well as extracting water from the river, licences allow some irrigators to capture overland flows.

Overland-flow capture means diverting rainwater into storage before it reaches the river, which in turn leads to less water entering the system.

“Some cotton growers in the Darling River tributaries have managed to capture some of the water in the recent rains that have occurred, and that’s part of the licencing system that allows them to do that, to harvest those flows,” he said.

Expert in water policy reform

Professor Michael Young from the University of Adelaide said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had failed to plan for lean times.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into debating what is called the ‘sustainable diversion limits’, which is working out the maximum amount that can be taken when the tank is full,” he said.

“We’ve put very, very little effort into working out how to manage times of low flow and who’s responsible for that.”

In the United Kingdom, there is a policy called “hands-off flow”, where water is released at the top of a system and that water cannot be extracted as it works its way downstream.

But in Australia, things are different.

“In much of the Darling at the moment we don’t have mechanisms in place to shepherd water through the system,” Professor Young said.

“The licences people hold are often a function of the height of the river. If one person leaves water in the river, the next person says, ‘thank you, I’ll take some more’.”

Expert in ecology, management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems

Professor Robyn Watts from Charles Sturt University said that drought, climate change and mismanagement had all contributed to the state of the river.

“There’s a lot of complexity around this fish kill,” she said.

“It’s hard to know if that could be avoided because there’s so much complexity around the Menindee Lakes system in terms of who’s been taking water upstream and whether it’s been taken legally.”

But she said there were things that could be done in the short term to avoid more fish kills.

During previous events, locals have improvised their own aerator systems, pumping oxygen into affected waterholes and moving cooler, deep water to the surface.

“Where these refuges were created … we got the most adults and the most fish larvae,” she said.

Yesterday, the New South Wales Government announced it would be installing aerators at a number of sites across the state.

Source: ABC 2019-01

Avocado production up in Far North Queensland

A smashing avocado season is predicted for Far North growers, as they gear up for another years record breaking harvest.

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Growers in Mareeba, Dimbulah and Atherton Tablelands are preparing to harvest their crop within the next fortnight, with record yields expected as the region takes over central Queensland as the prime growing area.

Atherton grower and Avocados Australia chairman, Jim Kochi said he expected over 4 million trays would be picked in the north alone.

Last year, the region produced about 4.5 million trays, which was a 30 per cent increase on the year prior.

Mr Kochi said new and established growers increasing their plantations had contributed to the boom, with avocado production in Australia more than doubling in just five years.

“North Queensland is now surpassing the Bundaberg and central Queensland production areas and we will know by just how much this year because we’re starting to get the first off the new plantings,” Mr Kochi said.

Mr Kochi said the north’s season started in early February and continued until the end of June.

Sheperds would come off first on the Tablelands, before the Hass variety reaches maturity.

Mr Kochi said the weather on the Tablelands was likely to impact on the season.

“I think the average will be variable around Mareeba, it depends on how much particular growers in their locality have been impacted by cold weather during flowering or the excessive heat in November, for the Sheperd variety. For Hass around the Atherton area its going to be a better than average crop.”

Mr Kochi said the November heatwave may lead to reduced fruit size due to heat stress on trees. He said some fruit may also have sunburn and will get graded out.

“The effect is a smaller fruit size is going to reduce the number of trays a grower might take off the property.”

Mr Kochi said fine weather with some cloud, no heavy rain or cyclones and intermittent showers were the ideal growing conditions.

”Avocados, being a very shallow rooted tree, don’t like to be waterlogged, so they don’t like heavy rain, which thankfully with the cyclone events and tropical lows, we’ve managed to avoid this season. Though it has put water in Tinaroo Dam, bringing up levels for the Mareeba-Dimbulah irrigation area.”

Mr Kochi said avocado quality should be high.

“Dry weather means we will have the chance of a clean crop this year, which should help us have a quality product through the supply chain and on to shelves.”

Australia’s avocado production was 77,000 tonnes in 2017/18, with the industry on track to produce 115,000 tonnes a year by 2025.

Source: Queensland Country Life 2019-01-18

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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