The dairy industry is one of Australia’s major rural industries, ranking third behind beef and wheat. Australian dairy is an AU$13 billion farm, manufacturing, and export industry. With a current farm gate value alone of AU$4 billion, the Australian dairy industry enriches regional Australian communities, says Helen Dornom, manager, sustainability, including food safety and integrity at Dairy Australia (DA).
DA is the dairy industry-owned national service organization that aims to support the dairy industry as a profitable, growing, innovative, and sustainable industry. “Dairy Australia covers the whole supply chain but works for the ultimate benefit of dairy farmers,” Dornom says.
There are eight dairying regions in Australia, each with its own environmental conditions. Each region has a Regional Development Program (RDP) to identify the region’s research needs and also help extend national research to meet regional needs. While RDPs receive funding and support from Dairy Australia, they are independent entities that act on what’s best for their region.
During financial year 2013-2014, (July 1-June 30), Australia’s 6,314 dairy farms were home to a total of 1,650,000 milking cows which produced 9.239 billion liters of milk, according to DA’s InFocus 2014, an annual publication. “The average herd size is an estimated 258, but there is also a trend emerging to herds of 1,000 plus head,” Dornom mentions.
The Australian dairy industry directly employs 43,000 Australians on farms and in manufacturing plants, while more than 100,000 Australians are indirectly employed in related service industries.
Dairying is a well-established industry across temperate and some subtropical areas of Australia. “While the bulk of milk production occurs in the Southeast states, most especially Victoria, all states have dairy industries that supply fresh milk to nearby cities and towns,” Dornom relates. “Dairy farms in Australia are primarily pasture-based with conserved fodders, grains, and prepared stock-foods used as supplementary feed.”
According to Dornom, a range of high-quality consumer products, including fresh milks, butter, cream, custards, yogurts, and a wide variety of cheeses are produced in most Australian states. The manufacturing of longer shelf life products, such as cheese and specialized powdered milks, is more concentrated in the Southeast region.
A significant exporter of dairy products, Australia exported approximately AU$3 billion in dairy products during 2013-14, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The top five export destinations for Australian dairy products in 2013-2014 were Greater China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The U.S., while not even in the top 10 relative to Australia’s dairy export destinations, imported 6,490 tonnes of dairy products in 2013-2014, which included 1,891 tonnes of cheese and 1,386 tonnes of lactose. Australia’s imports of dairy products from the U.S. far exceed exports of dairy from Australia to the U.S. In 2013-14, the U.S. exported a total of 53,886 tonnes of dairy products to Australia, including 16,200 tonnes of cheese and 1,112 tonnes of ice cream. (One Australian tonne equals 2,204.623 pounds.)
Dairy Regulatory Framework
“The dairy industry in Australia is a highly regulated sector and practices a high level of food safety management,” Dornom relates.
For starters, the Australian Dairy Food Safety Regulatory Framework has three elements.
1. Under national legislation, it is mandatory for dairy farms and dairy companies to have a documented and implemented dairy food safety program that is developed, validated, and approved to national and international standards.
2. Individual programs from farm through to retail or export are verified by government authorities.
3. Each business is licensed based on compliance and performance against the food safety program.
Currently, Dornom explains, these arrangements are implemented through a national Dairy Primary Production and Processing Standard (Standard 4.2.4) established through Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), which is uniformly adopted within state-based regulatory requirements (including Dairy Acts, Food Acts, Food Production Safety Acts, and/or Health Acts in differing states).