The changing face of the dairy industry.

Story By Martin Auldist

Jeff Odgers knows all about change. In 2001, just after the deregulation of the Australian dairy industry, the fourth-generation dairy farmer from Circular Head in north-west Tasmania sold the family farm, uprooted his young family and relocated to Victoria. They purchased “Lagoona Farm”, a new property of 190 hectares at Ardmona, in Victoria’s northern irrigation district. And then the trouble started. In the seven years since moving to the mainland the Odgers, like many farmers all over the nation, experienced two “one-in-100-year” droughts – one in 2002/03 and the other in 2006/07 – interspersed with other years of below average rainfall. Such dry conditions have seen their water allocation from the Goulburn Irrigation Scheme at times dwindle as low as 29 percent of their property’s entitlement (the Odgers have an 800 megalitre high-security water right). The sudden unreliability of the cornerstone of irrigated dairying – water – prompted some drastic changes in the way the Odgers managed their farm business. There were also changes in the Odgers’ personal lives. The now 42-year-old father of three doesn’t like to dwell on it, but it’s difficult not to notice that Jeff’s right leg is missing from above the knee, the result of an accident with a trench digger in 2001, just months after taking over their new farm. As if that wasn’t enough, Jeff was subsequently diagnosed with Hodgkinsons lymphoma in 2005, a condition that is now in remission. You’d forgive Jeff, his wife Robyn and their children Georgia, 15, Emily, 13, and Jonathan, 12, if they’d started to think things were getting a little too difficult. On the contrary, the Odgers have taken in their stride the substantial changes in both their industry and their lives. Like other leading dairy farmers, they have confidence in the long-term future of the industry, even in the face of some extreme challenges.

This story excerpt is from Issue #63

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2009