Gippsland’s reliable rainfall and fertile soils are under threat, according to Kernot residents who are concerned plans to expand a dairy operation to include a processing plant does not make the best use of prime agricultural land.A SMALL south west Gippsland community is set to take on a Chinese diary giant over expansion plans.
In what is a David and Goliath type battle, Chinese dairy giant Ningbo plans to expand its Yo You Dairy operation but has been met with a show of community strength by Gippsland town, Kernot.
It is understood the community has major concerns about the environmental, economic and social impacts of a proposed expansion by the Chinese dairy giant.
The company has applied to Bass Coast Shire Council to double its current 450-strong herd and build a milk-bottling plant; a cool store and warehouse; and supplementary feeding free-stall barn at the Loch-Kernot Road site.
Local residents David and Marie Trigg sold their dairy farm to Yo You Dairy in 2013, but still live on part of the property to run beef cattle.
Ms Trigg said most residents only found out about the company’s planning application at a community Australia Day breakfast; just days before an initial public submission deadline on January 28.
Such was the level of residents’ upset about a perceived lack of public consultation, that on January 29, the council’s chief executive Paul Buckley announced it would hold a community information session (scheduled for tonight, Thursday, at the Kernot Community Hall) and continue to accept submissions until the end of March.
Ms Trigg said the size of the proposed buildings blurred the line between an agricultural enterprise and an industrial one.
GHD Gippsland manager Jon McNaught is managing the permit application and said his client wanted to establish multiple farms across Victoria and NSW to export thousands of litres of fresh milk each day to China.
“Premium, or imported, fresh milk is currently selling for $6 to $7 a litre in China,” Mr McNaught said.
“Australian milk has an appealing reputation for being clean, green and contamination-free.”
Mr McNaught said the project was planned before Australia’s free trade agreement with China got over the line last year, but it had helped secure Yo You Dairy’s confidence in investing to take the project forward.
He acknowledged the community concerns about the proposed expansion, and said he was looking forward to talking to the community and addressing any misunderstandings, including that the planned feeding shed constituted a feedlot, at the public information session this week.
Ms Trigg said the proposal had generated enormous concerns in the small rural community.
She said the highly fertile Bass Valley soils and regular rainfall meant it was important to maximise the property’s agricultural, not industrial, use.
“The community is not against investment or change, but it has to be the right kind of change that benefits the community but I’m not sure this enterprise will do that because the plan does not include taking milk off other farms and sharing that premium.”
She is also concerned about the property’s tendency to be water-logged during winter, which she experienced during the 15 years the Trigg family farmed there.
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