What it's like to be UDV president

UDV president asks what it takes

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PRESIDENT: United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford at his Won Wron farm in South Gippsland.

PRESIDENT: United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford at his Won Wron farm in South Gippsland.

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Being UDV president is an experience Paul Mumford describes as "high octane" and he has a burning question for dairy farmers.

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United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Paul Mumford has a burning question for Stock & Land's dairy farming readers.

"We've only got 30 to 40 per cent membership, why don't we have more?" he asked.

"Tell me why you are not a member.

"What will it take to make you become a member of a state organisation?

"Is a mandatory levy or carve off from that mandatory levy under a unified industry going to be the catalyst?"

Mr Mumford suspected there were a range of reasons more dairy farmers weren't members.

"We're seeing a larger corporate space in the dairy industry and, generally, they have not engaged in advocacy, so we're essentially doing the work on their behalf," he said.

"We're also seeing some farmers being disengaged with the organisation and have chosen not to be members.

"But there's also an element out there that feel they are already paying levies to a national organisation and perhaps don't realise those levies aren't going to advocacy."

Full-time focus

It was a good day to pose big-picture questions; for the first time in a long while, there wasn't a single meeting to attend.

Like everything else, being UDV president - a job that normally consumes 70 to 90 hours a week - had changed abruptly as the coronavirus measures strengthened by the day.

Answering 30 or 40 phone calls a day and dozens of emails was normally wedged in between meetings and teleconferences that start as early as 8am and finish by 10pm.

Not that he's complaining - I sought Mr Mumford out for an insight into what being UDV president is really like.

"Previous presidents have commented that I'm perhaps in one of the extreme events where my role is a little bit more extreme than previously," he said.

"Our previous president, Adam Jenkins, had to deal with the 2016 events with the milk price crash.

"Now, he said that was quite extreme at times but he thought, when I took on the role, it should be three to four days a week maximum off-farm.

"In fact, most of my time is off-farm and I have to try and manage my farm through my wife and my manager during the day."

As he spoke, Ms Mumford was at the front door holding down one conversation while taking a series of farm-related calls on the phone.

"Both Lisa and my manager know that, if it's urgent, they'll text, allowing me to step out or deal with a problem by text," Mr Mumford said.

"I don't think she likes doing it but Lisa is managing extremely well in that management role.

"To anyone who was thinking of doing this job, I would say you must have the time in your business, you must have the time in your family, you must be prepared for many challenges and pushback."

Testing times

It is undoubtedly a busy era for any UDV president.

Since 2016, the dairy crisis has rolled on into an ACCC inquiry, two senate inquiries, water policy turmoil, animal activism, the development of a code governing the relationships between farmers and processors, and the Australian Dairy Plan, which is set to reshape the UDV itself.

"All of these are high priorities and our industry can't afford any more knockbacks," Mr Mumford said.

He was proud of the UDV's small team of staffers' efforts to manage the load but the organisation was underfunded.

Voices heard

Years of industry turmoil have also exposed tensions within the UDV itself Mr Mumford did not shy away from.

"I don't want to inhibit anyone's voice and people are entitled to say and do what they like, so I'm certainly not trying to stop anyone from speaking their mind," he said.

"But what I, what I can do is come to a consensus at policy council.

"So I'm more about what I can do, and not what other people or what I think other people should be doing."

The level of member engagement varied throughout the state.

"My 10 districts are all very different," Mr Mumford said.

"Some are extremely engaged, like those over in the southwest, and run a traditional structured meeting but others are not so structured.

"Some policy counsellors run their advocacy through other organisations, like the CFA or football, with additional meetings when required.

"We're living in a new age that our businesses becoming more busy and dictated by margins, our family life is far more consuming and our communities are shrinking.

"Channels of socialisation, you know, Facebook and Twitter, have changed the way advocacy operates here in Victoria."

Even so, Mr Mumford avoids engagement on social media.

"I use social media as an information source on what some people are talking about and have issues with but I won't engage purely because of the time restraints that I have," he said.

"To engage on social media brings a whole dialogue that actually takes up valuable time.

"I've got to be judged on that philosophy.

"But I've got to try and juggle everything: my job, my family, my business and, importantly, my downtime so I can get my thoughts back together."

Dairy Plan impact

The Australian Dairy Plan and its Joint Transition Team (JTT) report recommending advocacy reform would also have a massive impact on the future of the UDV.

READ MORE: UDV and Farmer Power call for advocacy delay

"The Australian Dairy Plan is a huge problem because of the miscommunications that has been put out there, so we're all filling the void and making what-if scenarios up."

"The plan is going to be an extremely long process.

"If we work on just the JTT outcomes, it essentially was the death of state organisations.

"Now I'm not precious about my role, if it's the death of UDV as we know it, but it has greater benefits and outcomes for the dairy industry than so be it.

"However, I don't see how that's possible because of cross-commodity issues like water that have to be addressed to make the Dairy Plan successful."

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