This event is a CMBWBL and WMLIG joint initiative, made possible with funding from the Agriculture Victoria, AWI, MLA & Murray Local Land Services through the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.
25th June 2018, Wakool NSW Sixty seven community members attended the 'Annual Wakool Sheep Night', this year focusing on Dynamic Business Planning. The theme for the event was created in response to the ongoing structural changes in the water industry and corresponding socio-economic impacts for local communities. Central Murray BestWool BestLamb co-ordinator, Rick Ellis felt that the community needed to "take the raw data and say, okay, what can we do with that? What do we need to help make business decisions?". In response to this, he recruited the services of Mecardo's grain, livestock & wool Market Analyst, Robert Hermann and the Murray Darling Basin Authority's Senior Economist, Phillip Townsend.
By combining the skills and experience of the two presenters, Rick hoped to give people the tools to formulate flexible planning strategies that make the most of water price variability and market trends. Robert Hermann reported that there was to be a continued boom in livestock profitability- especially in terms of sheep. He predicted that sheepmeat consumption would increase by 1% per year from growing middle class in Asia due to a rising demand for mutton. This growing demand will be coupled by a reduced global supply as sheep numbers fall in New Zealand. There are no wool stockpiles globally, meaning that the market will be actively trading for this resource. However, a challenge for the sheep industry is the decline in flock numbers. In the past 10 years Merino production has reduced, meaning that Australia is now producing 700,000 less bales. Going forward, the land area that was previously dedicated to wool production is now contested by cropping and prime lamb enterprises. To meet the rising demand for sheep, the industry needs to win back land from it's competitors, engage the next generation of farmers and bring investor funds into wool production. Innovation will be essential to combat farming alternatives and needs to focus on: production (genetics, pasture, animal management) and harvesting (shearing, handling and packaging) to increase on-farm productivity.
Phillip Townsend followed Robert's presentation with figures on the socio-economic impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan implementation. Phillip reported that across the period from 2001-2016, local farm employment fell around 72% (with two thirds of this change occurring from 2006-2011). Of these figures, approximately 20-27% of this change could be attributed to the Basin Plan. Over the same period, total employment fell 54%; with 16% attributed to the Basin Plan, 3% to other environmental water recover and 35% due to other causes. The community profile for Wakool was particularly impacted during this time, with a population decrease of 45.6%, workforce reduction of 53.7% and a 45% decrease in community members under 45 years old. The workforce reduction saw the agriculture workforce decrease 61.5%, the private workforce (non-ag) drop 57.3% and government services reduced by 35.1%. Wakool is highly impacted by the changes from 2001-2016 and falls into a decile 2 category with diminished capacity for adaption and change in response to their circumstances.
After the confronting presentation, Rick asked all attendees to form groups and answer set questions designed to collectively understand the new landscape and present a united plan for future decision making. When asked "where do you see your business 5 years from now?" groups replied:
Increased diversification within business, dictated by water availability
Business expansion by up to 15%, in some cases bigger business' absorbing others
Increased use of technology
Improved adaptability within farm enterprises
Attendees felt that water security, innovative technology, retention of young professionals, increased training facilities/opportunities, local R&D, improved connectivity and increased use of government assistance would be key factors in helping to build businesses in the future. Given the current and projected economic conditions, the changes for business and community were seen to be:
Increased economies of scale to combat narrow profit margins
Reduced population and services (schools, health, ect.)
Business' becoming more innovative to 'create more with less'
Attraction of different industries for investments into farming and to help boost services
Barriers to the younger generation due to high entry costs to farming
Overall loss of skills in the region
So with all of this information, how do we move forward? Can we use these adverse statistics to our advantage? Will these above ideas enable local business' to plan, establish and seize opportunities? The answer will be dependant on community response. However, information gathered from this workshop can be used to leverage support packages from government agencies and other resources will be available to aid this difficult transition. Market Analyst, Robert Hermann was quick to offer his support to the Wakool community, saying that he wanted to be associated with this community, "usually amazing things come out of tough situations and I want to be a part of that".