REFORMS around water were identified as the top priority for the industry at an Australian Dairy Plan consultation session at Cohuna. 

Ideas on the issue included working to obtain a moratorium on all new water licences, pushing for transparency in water trading and the need for better public education on the benefits of irrigated agriculture.

Participants used an online system to vote on dairy industry reform.

Participants used an online system to vote on dairy industry reform.

Around 40 people, 21 of them dairy farmers, attended the workshop, which was part of a nationwide process to gather the insights of farmers, processors and service providers and develop a medium-term national plan.

In a first for the industry, the initiative is being jointly led by key organisations Dairy Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Dairy Products Federation and the Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

"Last November all of the leaders of these peak bodies basically came together and said we've got some pretty major challenges going on with the dairy industry nationally. We need to look at collectively coming together to develop a national plan'," Jenny Wilson, the chief executive officer of Murray Dairy, Dairy Australia's regional arm, told the Gannawarra Times at the event.

"I think government in particular finds it challenging to work with the dairy industry if you've got so many different bodies not necessarily having the same conversation. So I think that's really important."

"Since then the consulting group, Nous, were put on, and they started their consultation process about four weeks ago and are heading around nationally."

District farmer and United Dairyfarmers Victoria vice-president John Keely described the initiative as about "getting back to the grassroots" to seek input on the future of the industry.

"Milk production has dropped from 11.2 billion litres at its peak to 8 billion litres this year. The industry's been contracting. Where's it going to go and what plans do we put in place to make sure it's healthy?"

Despite the myriad challenges facing dairy farmers and cynicism in some quarters about actual outcomes from the process, the mood at the workshop was engaged and constructive.

"Obviously water was the major topic and you expect that in northern Victoria because it's the key ingredient to make milk - to grow grass or make fodder," Mr Keely said.

While there may have been debate about the amount of time spent discussing water, overall, "the engagement among those who attended was really good; it was positive," Mr Keely said.

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