ASIA is the new frontier for embattled Gympie region dairy farmers, whose milk and milk products will one day be the boutique dairy items of choice in China, if Queensland processors and industry leaders have their way.
About 100 dairy farmers from throughout the region and beyond attended the second biannual Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation conference at the Gympie Civic Centre yesterday.
The future, they were told, is bright. But most Queensland farmers don't feel that way.
A host of speakers and displays from major and independent processors such as Norco, Lion and Maleny Dairies joined QDO and Dairy Australia heavyweights in acknowledging the plight of dairy farmers over the past four years, the impact of natural disaster like the drought and "man-made disasters" like the milk price war, and the vast potential that Asia represents, especially China.
QDO president Brian Tessman rejected claims his organisation was not doing enough to staunch the haemorrhage of dairy farmers from the Gympie region and Queensland economies.
He said the QDO worked hard to support farmers, develop markets, lobby government and improve farm efficiencies, including working with farmers to reduce the prohibitive power bills of irrigating, which many dairy farmers must do 24/7 to feed their herds through the drought.
QDO CEO Adrian Peake said there was "some movement" in Canberra on some of the issues facing dairy farmers, and one of the biggest breakthroughs was Norco's success in changing the protocols for the importation of fresh milk into China.
Coles and Woolworths have "jammed up" the market place domestically, but diversification and the export market was the way forward, Mr Peake said.
The domestic market has potential for opportunities as there is already a shortage of fresh milk in Queensland and this state has the highest population growth.
The conference heard a recent survey of 471 Queensland and NSW dairy farmers revealed 37% were not confident about the future, 4% were confident and the rest were somewhere in between.
This was a slightly better result than previous confidence surveys.
Less than a quarter of farmers, however, expected to be dairying in five years time and 67% said they struggled each month to pay their bills.
Seventy-four per cent said they would be interested in joining a single supply group, and 48% were interested in changing processors.
Mr Peake said the QDO was lobbying the Federal Government to implement a mandatory Code of Conduct to clean up the "unconscionable conduct within the retail sector", and for a stronger Competition and Consumer Act to outlaw predatory conduct. It wants better trade agreements for dairy, a trade agreement with China, and stronger bargaining powers for farmers, including the provision to boycott.