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Dairy industry kept alive for future generations by determined families

Lara Webster, Mike Pritchard and Amelia Bernasconi, Friday September 6, 2019 - 06:59 EST
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Brian Wilson (right) works with his son Todd on their family dairy alongside Brian's father Lindsay. - ABC

One hundred years of doing anything is no mean feat, and even more so when it is a family dairy that has made the milestone.

Despite the many industry challenges, members of the Wilson family in northern New South Wales have refused to allow their passion to die.

Early generations began dairying in 1918 and today three generations still work their Tamworth dairy 365 days a year, milking 170 jersey cows daily.

Third-generation farmer Lindsay Wilson, his son Brian, and grandson Todd continue to carry on their family legacy despite the volatility of their industry and the ongoing drought.

As Brian Wilson watches his own son take on the family business beside them, he has fond memories of his early years on his parents' first dairy farm at Wingham.

"It was certainly on smaller scale [and] started off milking around 80 cows," he said.

"My memories back then were really good — just running around barefoot as a kid.

"It just seemed a lot slower pace back then … we didn't have to push production as hard as what you do now to make a living."

These days the dairy manufactures its own milk, with Todd and wife Sarah purchasing the Peel Valley Milk factory and brand in 2017.

That progression has allowed the family to take control of the entire supply chain, which has provided some security in trying times.

"We process our own milk. We're marketing it, selling it, delivering it to the shops. So we now control that whole supply chain from paddock to fridges," he said.

"That is a new challenge that we are really starting to enjoy and we are getting rewarded with the quality of some products and winning some awards."

There is now a sixth generation of Wilson's growing up on the dairy, and Brian Wilson still remained positive about the future, despite the challenges to overcome.

"Probably since deregulation back in the year 2000 things took a downward spiral and we just haven't really caught up," he said.

"We just have so much ground to make up but there are things being put in place now to turn that around.

"I think there will always be a market for milk and dairy products. It's still a great food product."

For the love of cows

For members of the Wilson family it is their jersey cows that keeps them passionate during trying markets and seasonal conditions.

Todd, Brian and Lindsay are all judges and also show their registered cows throughout the year.

For more than 50 years, they have been refining the genetics of their herd, something Brian Wilson hoped would continue into the future.

He said the breeding of cows could be a challenge, but it was also rewarding when the results of the breeding were good.

"I think that gets us through the hard times and we've certainly come a long way."

The family own Australia's 2016 grand champion cow, Shirlinn Icy Eve.

Back in the game

The number of registered dairy farms in New South Wales has taken a huge tumble from more than 3,600 in 1980 to just 626 at the last count in 2018.

At a time where milk prices are struggling, water is scarce, and feed costs are high, there are not many people entering the dairy industry.

Or re-entering, as is the case for farmers Robert and Narelle Worth from the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales.

More than a decade ago they closed down their operations and left the dairy industry.

"In 2004 we finished dairying. We just got sick of going backwards and prior to that I spent all my life in dairying," Mr Worth said.

"I've had a holiday now."

They now run a commercial and stud beef cattle operation and cut hay on their 100 hectares on the outskirts of Singleton.

"There's a lot of fluctuation with your income," Mr Worth said.

"It's good when it's good and when it's bad, it's bad."

Looking to the future

When the rain comes, and the drought finally breaks, they expect the income from hay and cattle to take a hit.

"It is going to rain, the drought will break and that's going to stop a lot of the hay income," Mr Worth said.

"When it rains, cattle prices are going to go through the roof, so you can't deal in cattle. You won't buy and sell cattle, so we were looking for a stable income where we have a little of regular income all the time."

They have been eagerly watching the dairy industry from the sidelines and said now was the time to get back in the game.

"We never stopped watching the dairy industry the whole time and we always missed the cows," Mr Worth said.

"So, we're going to go back to milking cows — only 35 — and then as the drought breaks and as our water secures up in the river, we will look to double our numbers," Mr Worth said.

A certain of percentage of the dairy herd will also be surrogates for their stud's speckle calf embryos.

"So we'll have the milk, the dairy, beef and the stud embryos all from the one package of the dairy," Mrs Worth added.

While many have questioned their decision and even said the couple was foolhardy to do it, they are ready to get back into the sheds in less than a month's time.

"There is more than one processor that is happy to take our milk at this stage," Mr Worth said.

"I've seen the milk prices start to rise a little bit [and] Australia is getting short of milk, so I think the tide has turned a little bit," he said.


© ABC 2019

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