Cautious optimism for dairy project

PROPOSED: The Cohuna dairy plant layout being presented for approval by the Environment Protection Authority and Gannawarra Shire Council.

PROPOSED: The Cohuna dairy plant layout being presented for approval by the Environment Protection Authority and Gannawarra Shire Council.

KEY community members have expressed cautious optimism in the wake of news about a $130 million dairy project proposed for Cohuna. 

The Gannawarra Times revealed earlier this week that an ambitious plan for a milk processing plant was being considered for Keely Industrial Estate on the town's outskirts, which would process 300 million litres of milk per annum.

Approval and design work is well under way and includes a drying plant for export and domestic production, and a possible butter plant, but the project still needed to attract investors.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria representative, John Keely said that although the possibility of another major employer in the town was exciting, there were significant barriers to overcome.

"If everything works that would be fantastic. I'm unsure as to whether it would get up - it's a big call. That's not to say it won't happen but for one they've got to find an investor. Two is actually pulling that supply in to make it work because people aren't as loyal now as they were before the crash," he said.

Mr Keely added that while the proponents of the plan, local businessmen John Mawson and Jason Wright, had talked about the need to pay very competitive prices, that might not be enough to convince farmers to change processors.

"I think that actually needs to be a leading price because farmers are still struggling with cash-flow from the previous two years," he said.

"There are a whole lot of players and everyone's competing for that one pool of milk. That's where the tricky bit is going to be," he said.

Northern Herd Development management accountant, Steven Cameron said that as long as it is financially viable, the project had no negatives.

"If it's going to be a viable investment then it's a big tick," he said.

Cohuna Progress Association president, Jason Hensley said that the project could open up real opportunities for the town, particularly in terms of attracting new families to the area, something that would have plenty of follow-on benefits for the community. 

"I first moved to the area to work at Kraft when they were operating as a bulk cheese plant [in Leitchville]. That's what brought me to the area and when that closed and all the milk from the area went out of the district, it made a lasting impact on employment opportunities and the general economic opportunities in this area," he said.

"Having something like [a milk plant] - people will move in and at the end of the day that's only going to be good for our broader community. That will flow through to our sporting clubs, our schools, and our shops in the main street," he said. 

Mr Mawson said that he hoped the plant would be operational by the second half of next year.

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