Dairy industry

Industry overview

The dairy industry makes an important contribution to the Australian economy. In 2017–18, it accounted for around 7 per cent ($4.4 billion) of the gross value of agricultural production (ABS 2019) and around 7 per cent ($3.5 billion) of agricultural export income.

The results below are for farms included in the Australian Dairy Industry Survey (ADIS). The ADIS is funded by the Department of Agriculture. Data are provided at national and regional scales, with regions based on those used by Dairy Australia.

Australian dairy regions

Source: ABARES

Key drivers of farm income


Farm financial performance

  • Average farm cash income of Australian dairy farms is projected to decline by around 42 per cent in 2018–19 to $93,000 per farm. The major influence on the financial performance of dairy farms in 2018–19 is drought in much of south-eastern Australia.
  • At the national level, the effect of the current drought on most measures of farm financial performance is not expected to be as severe as previous droughts for dairy farms
  • In 2018–19 average farm cash income is projected to decline in all regions except Gippsland and Tasmania.

Detailed farm financial performance findings

Frederick Litchfield, Aruni Weragoda and Dale Ashton

Farm cash income and profit

The major influence on the financial performance of dairy farms in 2018–19 is drought in much of south-eastern Australia. Average farm cash income is projected to decline by around 42 per cent in 2018–19 to $93,000 per farm (Table 1).

Lower crop production is contributing to higher prices for fodder and feed-grains. The drought has also reduced the availability of pasture on dairy farms in drought-affected regions, increasing expenditure on purchased feed. Dairy farmers in the Murray region have also been faced with higher water prices because of increased competition for scarce supplies. Overall, slightly higher milk prices are expected to be offset by decreased average milk production per farm and increased expenditure on fodder.

At the national level, the effect of the current drought on farm cash income is not expected to be as severe as previous droughts for dairy farms (Figure 1).

Table 1 Farm financial performance, dairy farms, 2016–17 to 2018–19
average per farm
Performance measure Unit 2016–17 2017–18p 2018–19y
Australia
Total cash receipts $ 711,510 836,000 801,000
Total cash costs $ 620,680 674,000 707,000
Farm cash income $ 89,640 161,000 93,000
Farm business profit $ –8,230 92,700 –55,000
Rate of return a % 1.3 3.1 0.2
Subtropical
Total cash receipts $ 631,530 680,000 623,000
Total cash costs $ 478,640 534,500 558,000
Farm cash income $ 152,890 145,500 65,000
Farm business profit $ 67,520 16,500 –95,000
Rate of return a % 2.8 1.4 –1.2
New South Wales
Total cash receipts $ 985,330 1,135,000 1,044,000
Total cash costs $ 786,940 934,500 974,000
Farm cash income $ 198,390 200,500 70,000
Farm business profit $ 81,530 93,300 –124,000
Rate of return a % 2.6 2.7 –0.7
Murray
Total cash receipts $ 593,960 712,500 650,000
Total cash costs $ 557,800 579,100 638,000
Farm cash income $ 36,170 133,500 12,000
Farm business profit $ –81,820 57,000 –136,000
Rate of return a % –0.7 2.6 –2.5
Gippsland
Total cash receipts $ 612,660 710,500 669,000
Total cash costs $ 589,510 640,500 589,000
Farm cash income $ 23,150 70,000 80,000
Farm business profit $ –90,160 36,100 –46,000
Rate of return a % 0.2 2.0 0.3
Western Victoria
Total cash receipts $ 704,480 842,800 818,000
Total cash costs $ 594,770 616,300 689,000
Farm cash income $ 109,720 226,600 130,000
Farm business profit $ 48,130 173,800 –20,000
Rate of return a % 2.6 5.3 1.3
South Australia
Total cash receipts $ 857,990 1,050,200 1,150,000
Total cash costs $ 727,010 897,900 1,035,000
Farm cash income $ 130,980 152,300 116,000
Farm business profit $ 15,390 85,100 –58,000
Rate of return a % 1.8 2.5 0.2
Western Australia
Total cash receipts $ 1,424,320 1,393,900 1,325,000
Total cash costs $ 1,003,120 1,051,500 1,050,000
Farm cash income $ 376,380 303,000 218,000
Farm business profit $ 265,140 176,100 58,000
Rate of return a % 3.7 2.8 1.6
Tasmania
Total cash receipts $ 926,880 1,198,600 1,283,000
Total cash costs $ 829,420 916,400 982,000
Farm cash income $ 97,460 282,200 301,000
Farm business profit $ 31,720 223,300 172,000
Rate of return a % 2.5 5.6 4.3

p Preliminary estimate. y Provisional estimate. a Excluding capital appreciation.
Source: ABARES Australian Dairy Industry Survey



Farm cash income in 2018–19 is projected to be 9 per cent below the median since 1989–90 in real terms. The fall in farm cash income in other major drought years was more pronounced for dairy farms, such as in 2006–07 which was 71 per cent below the median since 1989–90.

Figure 2 shows that for Australian dairy farms the farm cash income projected in 2018–19 is expected to be within the middle 50 per cent of years. However, the most drought affected regions—Subtropical, New South Wales and Murray—are in the worst 25 per cent of years.



Farm business profit is a measure of long-term profitability. It accounts for capital depreciation, payments for family labour and changes in inventories of livestock, fodder and grain held on farm.

At the national level, farm business profit increased significantly from an average of –$8,230 per farm in 2016–17 to $92,700 per farm in 2017–18. In 2018–19, farm business profit is projected to decline significantly to –$55,000 per farm.

Over the 10 years to 2017–18 the proportion of dairy farms recording negative farm business profit averaged 48 per cent a year. In 2018–19, the proportion of farms with negative farm business profit is projected to be around 66 per cent (Figure 3).

Negative farm business profit means a farm has not covered the costs of unpaid family labour or set aside funds to replace depreciating farm assets. Many farms occasionally record negative farm business profits when their income fluctuates. However, ongoing low or negative profit affects long-term viability because farms have reduced capacity to invest in newer and more efficient technologies.

On average 15 per cent of dairy farms recording negative farm business profit in any given year from 2000–01 to 2017–18 have recorded a positive profit in the following year.



Total cash receipts

At the national level, total cash receipts for dairy farms increased by around 17 per cent in 2017–18, on average, as a result of higher milk production and prices. The changes in average milk prices received varied across the different dairy production regions, ranging from an increase of 20 per cent in Tasmania to a decline of 2 per cent in Western Australia. Milk yields per cow were higher in all regions except New South Wales and Western Victoria.

At the national level, average total cash receipts are projected to decline by 4 per cent in 2018–19 to around $801,000 per farm (Table 1), largely as a result of decreased milk production in most regions.

Total cash costs

Dry conditions across several regions pushed expenditure on key inputs higher in 2017–18. Average total cash costs for Australian dairy farms increased by around 9 per cent to $674,000 per farm (Table 1). This increase was mainly a result of increased expenditure on purchased feed as a result of higher feed grain prices and increased demand due to dry seasonal conditions. Hired labour, fertiliser and repairs and maintenance also increased in 2017–18. In 2018–19, average total cash costs are projected to increase by a further 5 per cent mainly as a result of increased expenditure on feed.

From 2000–01 to 2018–19 expenditure on fodder was the largest component of total cash costs, accounting for 30 per cent over the period (Figure 4). Interest, repairs and maintenance, fertiliser and hired labour were the next largest components of total cash costs from 2000–01 to 2018–19.

A majority of Australian dairy farmers supplement pasture-based production by feeding grains, concentrates and by-products to cattle in order to increase milk yield per cow. The use of grains and concentrates as supplement feeding therefore has become an increasingly large component of dairy farm inputs in recent decades. Increased reliance on supplementary feeding has resulted in increased exposure of dairy farmers to unfavourable seasonal conditions and changes in the prices of purchased feed (hay and feed grains).



Performance by region

The financial performance of dairy farms in 2017–18 and 2018–19 varied across the regions, reflecting differences in exposure to drought (Figure 5). A majority of dairy farmers in the Subtropical, New South Wales, Murray and Gippsland regions reported below average or drought seasonal conditions in 2017–18 and 2018–19.

Dairy farms in the Subtropical region have faced an extended period of drought and below average seasonal conditions. After reaching a peak in 2016–17, farm incomes in the Subtropical region declined in 2017–18 and 2018–19 (Figure 6). Reduced milk production because of fewer cows milked, combined with higher fodder costs, were the main reasons for lower incomes.

New South Wales had fewer dairy farmers reporting below average seasonal conditions in 2018–19 compared with 2017–18. This was mainly because of better rainfall in the North Coast and Hunter areas. Nevertheless, farm income for New South Wales dairy farms is projected to fall substantially in 2018–19. Overall milk production for the region is expected to be lower and fodder costs significantly higher.

Seasonal conditions worsened in the Murray region in 2018–19. Reduced milk production and higher costs for fodder and irrigation water is projected to contribute to Murray dairy farms recording their lowest average farm cash income in over 20 years. Average farm cash income in the Gippsland region is projected to increase slightly in 2018–19 because many dairy farms that had access to irrigated pastures were not as affected by higher fodder costs as other regions.

The proportion of Western Victorian dairy farms reporting below average to dry seasonal conditions increased in 2018–19. Average farm cash income in the Western Victoria region is expected to fall by around 43 per cent in 2018–19 as a consequence of reduced milk production and markedly higher costs for purchased feed.

Dairy farmers in South Australia are projected to record a decline in average farm cash income (by 24 per cent) in 2018–19. Costs are expected to increase in 2018–19 more than offsetting a small increase in milk receipts.

On average, farm cash income in Western Australia is projected to decline by 28 per cent in 2018–19. Milk production is projected to be relatively unchanged, while expenditure on purchased feed is projected to increase because of higher fodder prices driven by demand in eastern states.

Tasmania was the opposite of most other dairy regions. Good seasonal conditions and less dependence on purchased feed is projected to contribute to increased milk production and higher average farm cash income in 2018–19.





Rate of return

From 2016–17 to 2017–18 the average rate of return (excluding capital appreciation) of Australian dairy farms increased from 1.3 per cent to 3.1 per cent (Figure 7). The average rate of return is projected to decline to around 0.2 per cent in 2018–19, well below the long-term average.



The performance of individual dairy farms varied widely in 2017–18 and 2018–19 (Figure 8). In 2017–18, around 17 per cent of dairy farms recorded a negative rate of return (excluding capital appreciation) and 41 per cent recorded a rate of return between zero and 5 per cent. The remaining 42 per cent of dairy farms recorded a rate of return above 5 per cent.

In 2018–19, 44 per cent of dairy farms are projected to have a negative rate of return. An estimated 46 per cent of dairy farms are projected to have a rate of return between zero and 5 per cent and the remaining 10 per cent are projected to have a rate of return above 5 per cent.



Variation in rate of return

The long-term performance of farm businesses is determined by the level and variability of profits. Variations in the rate of return reflect changes over time in average seasonal conditions, commodity prices and the cost of farm inputs recorded in each region. Individual farms are likely to have experienced different variations in the rate of return over the period. These are a result of farm-specific factors such as seasonal conditions, prices received, enterprise mix and the skills of the manager.

Between 2000–01 and 2018–19 the annual average rate of return (excluding capital appreciation) for Australian dairy farms was positive in all years except the drought years of 2002–03 and 2006–07. However, average rates of return by region vary.

Dairy farmers in Western Australia recorded the lowest variation in the average annual rate of return over the period while the Murray region had the greatest overall variation in the rate of return (Figure 9).


Farm debt and equity

  • Average farm debt of Australian dairy farms increased by around 10 per cent to $1,065,200 in 2017–18 (in real terms) and is projected to decrease by 8 per cent in 2018–19.
  • The average equity ratio of dairy farms at the national level declined from 85 per cent in 2004–05 to an estimated 80 per cent in 2017–18.

Detailed debt and equity findings

Frederick Litchfield, Aruni Weragoda and Dale Ashton

Trends in average debt per farm

Debt is an important source of funds for farm investment and ongoing working capital for many dairy farms. At the national level, from 2000–01 to 2017–18 average debt of dairy farms trended upwards in real terms, mainly as a result of an increase in average farm size (Figure 10). Average debt of dairy farms increased by around 10 per cent in 2017–18, but is projected to decline by 8 per cent in 2018–19 to around $985,000 per farm. Aggregate debt across all dairy farms has declined as some dairy farms have been sold for non-dairy land uses.


In ABARES farm surveys, debt is recorded by its main purpose. However, because some loans cover a range of purposes, estimates of debt by main purpose provide a guide only.

Over the 3 years to 2017–18, land purchases accounted for the largest proportion of dairy farm debt, around 42 per cent on average (Figure 11). A further 32 per cent of debt was for working capital and 12 per cent was reconstructed debt. The remaining debt was for a range of purposes such as vehicles, machinery, buildings and structures.


Equity ratio

The average equity ratio of dairy farms at the national level declined from 85 per cent in 2004–05 to an estimated 80 per cent in 2017–18. Debt levels increased in line with increased average herd sizes and milk production over the period. However, declining land values offset high levels of new investment in some regions (Tasmania, Western Victoria and South Australia) and resulted in average total farm capital increasing at a slower rate than farm debt.

Around half of all dairy farms had equity ratios of 70 to 90 per cent in 2017–18, with an average milking herd of 284 cows (Table 2). An estimated 29 per cent of dairy farms had an equity ratio greater than 90 per cent. On average these farms are relatively small with an average milking herd of 177 cows. The remaining 21 per cent of dairy farms had an equity ratio of less than 70 per cent. These are relatively large farms with higher than average herds and milk production.

Table 2 Farm Performance, by equity ratio, dairy farms, Australia, 2017–18
average per farm
Measure Equity ratio
Unit More than 90% 70 to 90% Less than 70%
Proportion of farms % 29 49 21
Total area operated ha 237 312 320
Number of dairy cows milked no. 177 284 314
Total milk production l 1,060,200 1,534,300 1,902,800
Milk receipts $ 511,600 719,300 864,800
Total cash receipts $ 596,600 821,800 1,006,500
Total cash costs $ 459,600 663,500 832,500
Farm cash income $ 137,000 156,000 173,900
Milk receipts as a proportion of total receipts % 86 88 86

Note: Based on preliminary estimates.
Source: ABARES Australian Dairy Industry Survey

Debt-servicing capacity

The long-term viability of a farm is affected by its capacity to service debt. The servicing of debt consists of making interest payments and paying down the principal. The proportion of farm receipts spent on interest payments is a useful indicator of short-term capacity to service debt. National short and long term interest rate data is available in the following table Australian main macroeconomic indicators.

From 2000–01 to 2017–18 the proportion of farm receipts needed to fund interest payments fluctuated around an average of 8 per cent. The ratio of interest paid to total cash receipts for 2018–19 is projected to be around 6 per cent, the lowest since 2001–02 (Figure 12). Reduced interest rates, increased cash receipts and a reduction in total debt have all contributed to the decrease in the ratio of interest paid to total cash receipts since 2012–13.


At the national level, around 60 per cent of dairy farms reduced their average total debt in 2017–18, while 30 per cent of farms increased their debt (Figure 13). This is the largest proportion of farms reducing debt in any given year since 2000–01.

At a regional level, the Murray region had the highest proportion of farms reducing their average total debt in 2017–18 (84 per cent). Gippsland had the second highest (70 per cent), while Tasmania had only 35 per cent of farms reducing their total debt in 2017–18, compared to 52 per cent that increased average total debt.


Nationally, there was no significant difference in the size of farms reducing debt compared with those that increased debt (Table 3). However, cash incomes were around 24 per cent lower for those reducing debt because this group includes a number of farms that are exiting the industry.

Table 3 Farm performance, by change in debt, dairy farms, Australia, 2017–18
average per farm
  Unit Reducing debt Increasing debt
Proportion of farms % 60 30
Total area operated ha. 300 290
Number of dairy cows mated no. 258 281
Total milk production l 1,434,300 1,710,700
Milk receipts $ 665,900 808,800
Milk receipts as a proportion of total receipts % 86 88
Total cash receipts $ 772,300 923,000
Total cash costs $ 636,700 740,300
Farm cash income $ 135,600 178,800
Equity ratio % 82 72

Note: Based on preliminary estimates.
Source: ABARES Australian Dairy Industry Survey

Debt and equity, by region

Debt and equity on dairy farms varied significantly by region. Dairy farms in Tasmania recorded the highest farm business debt on average. This was a result of the relatively high proportion of large farms and recent expansion in dairy production in that region (Figure 14).


From 2015–16 to 2017–18, land purchase debt accounted for the largest share of average debt of dairy farms in most regions, followed by ongoing working capital debt. This was the case for all regions except Western Australia and Tasmania, in which ongoing working capital debt accounted for the largest share of total debt on average (Figure 11).

The lowest average equity ratios were recorded in Tasmania, reflecting rapid expansion in the industry since the mid-2000s (Figure 15).


Distribution of dairy farms, by debt and equity

Table 4 shows the distribution of dairy farms by debt and equity ratio at 30 June 2018. An estimated 5 per cent of all dairy farms in Australia held no debt. A further 15 per cent of farms held less than $100,000 in debt. An estimated 34 per cent of dairy farms held debt in excess of $1 million.

Table 4 Distribution of farms, by farm business debt and equity ratio, dairy farms, Australia 30 June 2018
percentage
Equity ratio No debt Less than $100,000 $100,000 to less than $250,000 $250,000 to less than $500,000 $500,000 to less than $1m $1m to less than $2m More than $2m Total
Greater than or equal to 90% 5 15 6 2 1 0 0 29
80 to less than 90% 0 0 0 3 19 4 1 27
70 to less than 80% 0 0 0 1 10 7 4 23
60 to less than 70% 0 0 0 0 0 4 5 9
Less than 60% 0 0 0 0 3 1 9 12
Total 5 15 6 6 33 16 18 100

Note: Based on preliminary estimates. Row and column totals may not sum to 100 due to rounding.
Source: ABARES Australian Dairy Industry Survey

Farm capital and investment

  • The total value of capital for Australian dairy farms increased by 46 per cent in real terms from 2000–01 to 2017–18, although the number of dairy farms declined.
  • On average, 62 per cent of dairy farms each year made additions to their total capital over the 10 years to 2017–18.

Detailed farm capital and investment findings

Frederick Litchfield, Aruni Weragoda and Dale Ashton

Total farm capital

Investment in farm capital is important for the ongoing development of the Australian dairy industry. Investments in land, fixed improvements, and plant and equipment are key drivers of dairy farmers’ capacity to generate farm outputs.

The total value of capital of Australian dairy farms was around 46 per cent higher in 2017–18 than in 2000–01 in real terms (Figure 16). On a per farm basis, total capital increased by 167 per cent to an estimated $5.5 million in 2017–18, largely because of increasing average farm sizes and appreciation in land values.

Dairy farms in the Gippsland region accounted for 25 per cent of total dairy farm capital in 2017–18. The Murray and Western Victoria regions each accounted for 20 per cent of total capital. New South Wales (9 per cent), Tasmania (8 per cent), the Subtropical region (8 per cent), South Australia (5 per cent) and Western Australia (5 per cent) accounted for the remaining total dairy farm capital in 2017–18.



Land accounted for an average of 74 per cent of total capital per farm in 2017–18 (Figure 17). Livestock accounted for a further 16 per cent of total capital, and plant and equipment accounted for 10 per cent.


Return on land

ABARES uses two rates of return to farm capital—rate of return excluding capital appreciation and rate of return including capital appreciation. Rate of return is defined as farm profit at full equity expressed as a percentage of total capital. Because land is the largest component of total farm capital, it plays a key role in determining total farm returns.

Figure 18 shows the average value of land and fixed improvements per hectare. From 1990–91 to 1999–2000, the value of land remained relatively constant. Stronger demand for farm land led to sharp increases in land values from 2000–01 to 2006–07, with an average annual return from land appreciation of 12.1 per cent per year. Land values declined from 2007–08 to 2012–13, before rising in subsequent years to 2017–18.


New farm investment

Most farmers make new investments each year to add to existing capital or to replace capital items that have reached the end of their useful life. Farm investments are usually made with longer-term outcomes in mind and based on expected returns over the life of the investment.

On average, 62 per cent of dairy farms each year made additions to their total capital over the 10 years to 2017–18 (Figure 19). The amount invested each year by those making capital additions fluctuated broadly in line with movements in farm cash incomes. In 2017–18, an estimated 55 per cent of dairy farms made capital additions.


Figure 20 shows the proportion of dairy farms that made capital additions in 2017–18 and the average capital addition in three categories—land purchases, plant and equipment, and buildings and structures. Land is the biggest component of capital additions, although only 15 per cent of dairy farms bought land in 2017–18. Average expenditure on land for those making purchases was around $554,000 per farm.

Around 52 per cent of all dairy farms made additions to plant and equipment in 2017–18, at an average of around $83,000 per farm. Around 7 per cent of dairy farms made additions to buildings and structures, at an average of $116,000 per farm.


Farm management deposits

ABARES farm surveys record the total holdings of farm management deposits (FMDs) held by partners in the farm business (individuals sharing the farm business’s profits) at 1 July and 30 June. The proportion of dairy farms holding FMDs averaged around 18 per cent from 2007–08 to 2014–15, before increasing to around 20 per cent in 2015–16 (Figure 21). In 2017–18, an estimated 15 per cent of dairy farms held FMDs at 30 June. The value of FMDs held fluctuated around an average of $170,000 per farm in real terms from 2007–08 to 2017–18.

Over the 3–years to 2017–18, dairy farms holding FMDs recorded superior financial performance on average, including higher farm cash incomes, rates of return and equity ratios than dairy farms that did not hold FMDs (Table 5).



Table 5 Farm performance by FMD holdings, dairy farms, Australia, 2015–16 to 2017–18
average per farm
  Unit FMDs held at 30 June No FMDs held at 30 June
Proportion of farms % 17 83
Farm cash income $ 209,600 106,500
Rate of return a % 2.6 1.8
Equity ratio % 83 73
Total farm capital $ 5,476,700 4,744,400
Proportion of farms by region
Subtropical % 18 82
New South Wales % 25 75
Murray % 10 90
Gippsland % 28 72
Western Victoria % 12 88
South Australia % 29 71
Western Australia % 24 76
Tasmania % 7 93

a Excluding capital appreciation.
Source:ABARES Australian Dairy Industry Survey

Physical characteristics

  • From 2000–01 to 2017–18, the total number of Australian dairy farms fell by around 52 per cent. Most of this decline was in Victoria because of the large number of farms in that state, but the largest percentage decline was in Queensland.
  • Victoria is the largest milk producer, accounting for an estimated 64 per cent of total milk production in 2017–18, followed by New South Wales (12 per cent) and Tasmania (10 per cent).

Detailed physical characteristics findings

Frederick Litchfield, Aruni Weragoda and Dale Ashton

In 2017–18, an estimated 5,700 dairy farms were registered in Australia (Dairy Australia 2019). Around 68 per cent of these were in Victoria, 11 per cent in New South Wales, 7 per cent in Tasmania, 7 per cent in Queensland, 4 per cent in South Australia and 3 per cent in Western Australia.

From 2000–01 to 2017–18, the total number of Australian dairy farms fell by around 52 per cent. Most of this decline was in Victoria because of the large number of farms in that state, but the largest percentage decline was in Queensland (Figure 22).


Over the past 30 years, the structure of the Australian dairy industry has changed markedly. Restructuring has been driven by a range of factors, including:

  • changing world dairy product markets
  • prolonged drought in the mid 2000s
  • discontinuation of regulated sourcing and pricing of drinking milk in 2000
  • cessation of the Domestic Market Support Scheme for manufacturing milk prices.

Despite fewer resources being used for milk production, restructuring has promoted a more efficient industry and enabled growth in the gross value of Australian dairy production per farm in real terms. Dairy farmers have adapted by increasing the size and intensity of their operations, with more cows per farm, higher stocking rates and greater use of supplementary feeding.

Victoria is the largest milk producer, accounting for an estimated 64 per cent of total milk production in 2017–18, followed by New South Wales (12 per cent) and Tasmania (10 per cent) (Figure 23). The concentration of Australian milk production among the states has shifted slightly from 2000–01 to 2017–18, with Tasmania expanding and all others contracting or remaining relatively steady. From 2000–01 to 2017–18, Tasmanian milk production increased by 55 per cent (Figure 24).




Despite the changes in total milk production, average milk production per farm increased from 2000–01 to 2017–18 (Figure 25). This increase was driven by increases in average herd sizes—with higher stocking rates and higher average milk yields. In 2018–19, milk production per farm is projected to fall by 5 per cent to 1.5 million litres per farm.


Milk yields

Advances in breeding and genetics have allowed dairy farmers to select cows for a range of traits, such as higher milk yield, longevity and reduced health problems. These developments contributed to milk yields per cow trending upwards for dairy farms in all states from 2000–01 to 2017–18 (Figure 26). However, research suggests the focus on breeding higher-yielding cows has affected cow fertility (Berry, Friggens, Lucy &Roche 2016). Fertility problems affect cow lactation and therefore farm productivity. In response, dairy farmers have adopted a variety of management practices to improve cow fertility, including artificial insemination, genetic selection, heat detection programs and transition diets.


Stocking rates

The average stocking rate per hectare operated for dairy farms increased in all states from 2000–01 to 2017–18 (Figure 27). The largest proportional increases over the period were in Western Australia and South Australia. These increases have been supported by increased feeding of grain and other supplements on dairy farms.


Scale of milk production

From 2000–01 to 2017–18, the number of farms milking less than 200 cows a year declined by around 74 per cent, largely accounting for the total decline in the number of farms. The number of farms milking 200 to 350 cows initially fell, but increased towards the end of the period as a number of small farms increased the size of their milking herds. The number of farms milking more than 350 cows remained relatively steady over the period (Figure 28). Reflecting these changes, the average area operated by dairy farms was around 29 per cent higher in 2017–18 than in 2000–01, at an estimated 300 hectares per farm.



Seasonality of milk production

Dairy farmers plan their breeding programs in response to pasture growth and milk processor price incentives. The choice of calving pattern determines the seasonality of milk supply and demand for fodder. Common calving patterns are seasonal, year round and split.

On average over the 5 years to 2017–18, 57 per cent of dairy farms used year-round calving, 25 per cent used seasonal calving and 18 per cent used split calving. Dairy farms using a split calving pattern produced larger milk volumes on average over the 5 years to 2017–18. Split calving results in more cows being milked and greater average milk yield per cow than seasonal and year-round calving.

Use of these calving patterns varied by state over the 5 years to 2017–18 (Figure 29). Dairy farms in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia primarily use year-round calving to maintain a year-round supply of fresh milk to the domestic market. Dairy farms in Victoria use a mix of seasonal, year-round or split calving patterns. In Tasmania, dairy farms primarily use a seasonal calving pattern.


Productivity

Agricultural productivity estimates are available for the dairy industry.

References

ABS 2019, Value of agricultural commodities produced, Australia, 2017–2018, cat. no. 7503.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, accessed 21 June 2019.

Berry, D.P, Friggens, N.C, Lucy, M & Roche, J.R 2016, Milk production and fertility in cattle, Annual Review of Animal Biosciences, vol. 4, pp 269-290.

Dairy Australia 2019, Australian dairy industry in focus 2018, Dairy Australia, Victoria.

Data and other resources

Broadacre and dairy industries data

AgSurf provides a large selection of ABARES farm survey data on the broadacre and dairy industries

Previous reports

See our previous research page for previous versions of the report Australian dairy: financial performance of dairy farms.

Farm surveys definitions and methods

Further information about our survey definitions and methods.

Farm performance: broadacre and dairy farms

This web report provides a detailed profile of the financial performance of farm businesses in the grains, livestock and dairy industries in the years 2016–17 to 2018–19.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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