Seventeen Australian dairy farmers have just received a share of almost $1.5 million to fund on-farm projects in the latest round of the Woolworths Dairy Innovation Fund.
The latest grants mark a total of $5 million given to almost 60 dairy farmers from the Woolworths fund over the last three years, allowing family-run dairies to invest in technology, seasonal resilience and greater efficiency.
It comes at a key juncture for the industry, as dairies prepare for dry conditions in the year ahead and availability of labour becomes a growing challenge.
The most recent group of 17 grant recipients highlight the ways in which farmers are preparing for the upcoming season – from improving water management and energy efficiency, to automation – supported by grants of up to $100,000 each.
Woolworths Commercial Director of Dairy, Bakery and Deli Jason McQuaid says: “Out of necessity, Australian farmers are very wise about the investments they make during good seasons to see them through the tough ones, and we’re pleased to have helped almost 60 dairy farmers put those plans into action through our Dairy Innovation Fund.
“We have met some incredible farmers through the Fund, who are looking ahead and making smart investments now to benefit their dairy in the future.
“While in previous years the fund has supported tech-based projects like cow-collars and dairy automation, we’ve seen a real shift from farmers in the latest round to focus on climate resilience,” Mr McQuaid said.
“It’s exciting to hear from past grant recipients how quickly their investments have delivered measurable efficiency and cost savings, and we look forward to seeing how our recent grants will help these 17 dairies prosper.”
Third-generation dairy farmer Kacey Walker has just been awarded a grant of $80,000 from the fund to install an automated irrigation system with energy efficient pumps. She runs Walker Farm Foods in Cambroon, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where she milks up to 150 cows.
The new irrigation system will allow all irrigation taps across her dairy paddocks to be pre-programmed and operated via a wifi-controller, improving water management, saving time and reducing waste. At present, manual irrigation requires her to adjust taps across her property every two hours, every day.
“It’s so exciting to think about the impact automated irrigation will have on the business. We’re already experiencing some drought conditions and every drop of water counts, so to have the precision to control exactly where and when we’re using our precious water is so important,” says Ms Walker.
“I often think of farming as a balancing act of your time every day, and the amount of time that will be freed up by automation will mean I can do so much more – from everyday tasks, to working on projects to improve our sustainability, like on farm composting.
“For me, the Woolworths grant makes a costly investment like this possible so much sooner – which is very timely heading into the season ahead.”
Peter Mulheron milks up to 240 cows in Swan Marsh, Victoria, and is boosting his farm’s energy resilience with solar power. He has received a $100,000 grant from the Woolworths Dairy Innovation Fund to purchase a modular microgrid system – a shipping container holding mountable solar panels, a battery and an inverter.
The microgrid system is transportable, and will allow Mr Mulheron to power his dairy with renewable energy, and generate revenue when surplus energy is delivered back into the grid. With rising energy costs, the system will deliver savings, while also creating greater security of electrical supply. Peter is currently trialling a miniature version of the system.
“The beauty of a solar energy system is that not only will we be a more sustainable business and have lower power bills, but we’ll be more protected from power outages, which can be really costly to a dairy,” says Mr Mulheron.
“We’re seeing wild weather more often, and there are warnings Victoria could have rolling power outages this summer, so it’s really important that we have security of supply so we can keep milking, whatever happens.”
Emma and Nick Strong run a dairy in Jamberoo, on the NSW South Coast, milking up to 500 cows. Thanks to a $100,000 grant from Woolworths, they’re set to build a new calf rearing shed with automated feeding technology that tailors output to each individual calf. The new shed will deliver enhanced animal welfare through improved airflow and temperature control, while also reducing the labour-intensity of rearing.
“The new shed is going to transform rearing possibilities for us, with better efficiency and quality, which will also help us to continue expanding the business,” says Ms Strong.
“The automation will also make it viable for us to hold onto our bobby calves for longer, with the potential to sell to new markets like beef cattle rearing.”
The Woolworths Dairy Innovation Fund was launched in November 2020, designed in consultation with peak industry groups Australian Dairy Farmers, Dairy Australia, National Farmers’ Federation, Premium Milk Ltd and the NSW Farmers’ Association Dairy Committee. It was created to support Australian dairy farmers in the Woolworths supply chain, including those supplying vendor brands.