Innovation doubles milk production
Dairy farmers have remarkably doubled milk production over the last 30 years despite challenging market, financial and climatic conditions. This has been achieved even with the industry using substantially less land and a similar total number of cows.
Output per cow has nearly doubled and stocking rates per hectare and output per hectare have increased dramatically. Production has increased by almost triple from 2,878 litres per hectare in 1980 to an estimated 8,419 litres per hectare in 2010.
These are some of the findings from an evaluation jointly commissioned by the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria and Dairy Australia to determine the impact of government and industry investment from pre-farm research, development and extension to Victoria's and Australia's dairy industry form 1980-2010. The evaluation also aimed to capture learnings to inform future investment decisions.
The evaluation showed overall dairy industry production would have declined were it not for industry driven (internal) improvements over the past three decades There have been several factors external to the control of the industry, drought, increases in wages, fertiliser, fuel, electricity, water, transport and chemicals that overall have had a negative impact on growth.
The key industry driven changes were found to be:
- Better pasture production and utilisation;
- Use of supplementary feeding and its contribution to cow nutrition;
- Increased capacity of cows to use higher volumes of feed and convert feed more efficiently to milk; Close attention to animal health and welfare issues such as mastitis to avoid negative impacts on production;
- Economies of scale achieved from bigger farms and better shed infrastructure and management;
- Containment of emerging natural resource management issues arising as a result of farm intensification such as farm effluent management and fertiliser runoff;
- Better management and business skills; and
- Adaptation of suitable technology and practices from overseas to Australian conditions.
Research, development and extension (RD&E) was found to be a major contributor to these improvements, particularly in pasture management, supplementary feeding and improved cow genetics. The part of RD&E in animal health and fertility and natural resource management has also been significant.
RD&E is estimated to account for almost half of total production gains in Victoria's dairy industry. Innovation by farmers and others across the industry have also been important. It is estimated that for every dollar of the combined investment by industry and government of $2 billion in RD&E, there has been a benefit of at least $3.30. As a farmer's direct contribution through the dairy services levy is a moderate part of the total investment, their own return on investment is therefore many times this.
The lessons from the evaluation will help inform future investment in on-farm RD&E projects. For more information including a summary, the full evaluation reports, as well as a brief economic history of Victoria's dairy industry, please visit the DEPI and DA websites, DEPI - Dairy and Dairy Australia respectively