Kangaroos, koalas, and…milk powder? While dairy production might not be the first thought that comes to mind when Australia comes into conversation, the continent is a significant player in the global dairy industry. Compared to production giants like United States and New Zealand, Australia’s dairy product yield is limited in its scope; however, it nevertheless stands as one of the world’s largest exporters, with over half of its overall yield going to consumers overseas. Currently, Australia stands as the world’s third-largest exporter, ranked just behind New Zealand and the E.U. In 2011, PwC Australia reported that the Australian dairy industry pulled in over $2 billion in domestic and international sales and produced over 9 billion liters (2.5 billion gallons) of milk. Though it might be better known for its wildlife and culture, Australia has made a quiet name for itself in the international dairy community.
Despite the continent’s large size, dairy production in Australia mainly confines itself to the relatively temperate coastal zones. These areas tend to see more rain and thus have better and more reliable access to needed water than inland farms. Dairy farms do occasionally operate beyond the coast; however, the cost associated with irrigating a farm makes coastal dairy farming the more affordable and popular option. All told, the nation hosts over 1.5 million cows and boasts an average herd size of 220 head. According to the Australian State Milk Authorities, there are nearly 6,000 registered dairy farms currently active in the country, with Victoria far outstripping other states as the largest production region. Interestingly, Victorian production is typically seasonal and primarily services the export market, while the other states collectively provide milk and its products to domestic consumers year-round.
Like any other major player in the industry, Australia produces a wide range of dairy products including but not limited to: milk, milk powder, butter, yogurt, and cheese. In recent years, the need for fresh milk has been on the upswing as consumers continue to clamor for low- and reduced-fat milk. The vast majority of the country’s fresh milk exports go to bulk buyers in Asia. Australia’s relatively close proximity to countries such as Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and China has allowed the country to build strong trade ties; in 2011, roughly 80% of Australia’s milk and milk powder exports went to the Asian continent, while an additional 15% went to countries in the Pacific. Conversely, Australia’s cheese industry primarily services the domestic market. Domestically, cheese and cheese powder sales bring in around $1.5 billion annually, while exports claim a still-respectable but smaller $715 million.
One point is for sure: Australia might not be well-known for its dairy, but it certainly shouldn’t be overlooked by those in the business.