NEW South Wales sheep dairy farmer Cressida Cains sees opportunities for small farmers to replace speciality cheese imports with homegrown branded products as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts global supply chains and domestic consumer preferences.
Ms Cains was presented with the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award yesterday and will use her $10,000 Westpac bursary to develop a unique online platform to help fellow farmers market branded products.
She operates Pecora Dairy with her husband Michael and two sons at Robertson in the state’s Southern Highlands. They milk 150 East Friesian ewes on their 80 hectare farm for 10 months of the year, giving the ewes a break for breeding.
“We share milk with the lambs, so they stay with their mums during the day and we take them off at night … it’s just a process where there are happy mums and happy bubs.”
Ms Cains said she will set up an online platform and support hub called Dairy Cocoon over the next six months to assist farmers to develop and produce unique branded products.
The number of Australian dairy farmers has slumped from about 22,000 in the 1980s, to fewer than 6000 today.
Ms Cains sees a “huge opportunity” for small farmers to market branded products, with increasing imports of speciality cheeses, mostly sold through supermarkets, while consumers are re-examining their buying habits.
“Particularly with this COVID-19 situation – people are really starting to think about their buying behaviour and really wanting to support Australian-owned, Australian farms and Australian-produced,” Ms Cains said.
“So it might be an ideal time for some dairy farmers to consider whether this might be appropriate for their enterprise.
“I really do strongly feel that COVID-19 is an opportunity for dairy farmers and obviously Australian farmers at large.”
Pecora Dairy reinvents itself for COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Pecora Dairy marketed most of its produce to restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. But with the loss of that business due to coronavirus restrictions, the business has had to “reinvent things” to develop online sales and home deliveries.
“We are doing what we need to survive and we will survive, but these are certainly challenging times,” Ms Cains said.
Dairy Cocoon will include a range of business tools, information and education, as well as an online community to facilitate connections and support for all dairy farmers — sheep, cattle or goat. The site will enable farmers to create industry and product specific business plans, with advice on profit and loss and sales and marketing. Farmers will be connected to industry experts and mentors to receive tailored training and education, including online courses and webinars.
“When we started our business 11 years ago, there was really no curated source of information, specific to the dairy industry, and to small dairy farms setting up branded products.
“So with Dairy Cocoon, and its different elements — that being formulating a business plan, getting the education they need and getting support from the community and mentors – that will be very curated and very specific,” Ms Cains said.
“So depending on whether people want to brand their own milk, move into gelato, yoghurt, cheese-making, each of those products will be addressed with specific criteria which will make it a smoother process for dairy farmers who are willing and interested to move into those areas.”
She said statistics show that small family-owned dairy farmers are “in strife” because of the current system of selling milk was dominated by a few processors and big retailers, “who are really squeezing the dairy farmer.”
“So producing branded products is a way of breaking the shackles and taking back control of the business … and having a strong and profitable future for their family farm.”
Award is a chance to give back
“Blood, sweat and tears” have been some of the keys to Pecora Dairy’s success, she said.
“We’ve just never said no, we’ve just kept on working and we’ve come up against so many people saying ‘no you can’t milk cheese in Robertson, no, you can’t do this, no, you can’t produce raw milk cheese.’
“And we’ve just kept on going, and we’ve made mistakes and we’ve learned from it,” she said.
“I guess we’re now in a position where we are pretty stable and we’ve got a bit of a profile and we would like to share that information because there are so many small dairy farmers going out of business.”
Husband Michael said he was “terribly proud” of Cressida’s success in the awards.
“Last year we won the national trophy at the Delicious Produce Awards for Best Dairy Product in Sydney for it raw milk feta cheese.
“I think Cress and I feel that when you’ve got a certain profile and you’ve kicked a few goals it comes with a bit of responsibility tohelp others and give back into the industry.
“I just think if she can do some good by winning the award and creating the Dairy Cocoon project then I think it will leave a very positive impression on the regional landscape.”
Narrandera beef farmer is runner-up
Small-scale beef farmer Tammy Galvin was the runner-up and other finalist in the 2020 NSW award. Her project, Riverina Women’s Connect Network, aimed to bring together women, businesses and services through face-to-face networking events, a website and business directory, and online forums. In establishing the new network, Tammy hoped to facilitate leadership opportunities, social connectivity and stimulate the regional economy.
The network will bring together services and organisation such as Country Women’s Association of NSW, Soroptimists, Rotary, local business chambers, local, state and national women’s groups and government services such as the Rural Adversity Mental Health program.
Tammy said members of Riverina Women’s Connect will be encouraged to take up leadership opportunities to co-host gatherings and events on a quarterly basis, either in their town or on farms to give women greater confidence.