Farewell to dairy industry legend

A VISIONARY and leader of the Australian dairy industry John Bennett AM, has died after a long battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The co-founder of Ashgrove Farms and Ashgrove Cheese, he dedicated his life to farming, his family, the local Deloraine community and transforming the Tasmanian and Australian Dairy Industry.

In 2017, John was awarded the Kondinin ABC Rural Australian Farming Legend of the Year recognising his visionary leadership, courage and lifetime contribution to the Australian Dairy Industry. In 1961, John received a P&O Young Farmer Scholarship to study agriculture in the United Kingdom. The experience of 16 farm stays, visiting some 180 farms and attending Agriculture Research Institutions to learn about the latest farming practices in the United Kingdom made an indelible mark on John’s life.

The experience ignited his drive to innovate and lead change both at home on the farm and in the Australian Dairy Industry during the extremely challenging times for Tasmanian dairy farmers in the 1970s.

John first represented dairy farmers in 1972 as a delegate to the Northern Dairy Division of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and in 1974 was elected Chair of the State Division of the Dairy Council. He was a founding member of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) and a member of the inaugural board of the National Farmers Federation. John was President of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation from 1976 to 1985 and Deputy Chair of the Australian Dairy Corporation from 1981 to 1986. As inaugural Chair of the Australian Dairy Industry Conference (1976-1985) he was responsible for bringing together farmers and dairy manufacturers for the first time.

In 1980, John initiated the establishment of the Australian Speciality Cheese Producers Association. Appointed as Director of Asia Dairy Industries (HK) Ltd (1977 to 1987) led to John’s appointment as President Commissioner of P.T. Indo Milk (1977 to 1984) and a Director of Thai Dairy Industry Co. Ltd from 1980 to 1987. John’s international status was evident when he was elected Vice President of the International Federation of Agriculture Dairy Division in 1982.

In 1991, John was awarded Member Order of Australia for his services to the Australian dairy industry, John was instrumental in shaping the modern Australian Dairy Industry through the reforms that were implemented to the sectors marketing system in the 1980s. Until 1983, the dairy industry operated under a marketing system developed in the 1930s, which was antiquated and needed change.

Under John’s leadership, the dairy industry remained united and successfully negotiated essential reforms to the industry’s structure. The idea of starting on-farm dairy processing was initiated by John in the late 1980s and arose from his experience as a young man studying agriculture in the UK where he observed cheese manufacturing on family farms.

As John explained: “At the time unemployment in North-West Tasmania was high, Tasmanian dairy farmers were the worst paid in the world, and five generations of the Bennett families were proudly in gumboots and were going nowhere.”

The notion of a vertically integrated paddock to plate farm was unheard of back in the 1990’s and the risk for John and his brother, Michael and their wives, Connie and Maureen, the original founders of Ashgrove Farms and Ashgrove Cheese was enormous.