Farming Legend of the Year

To many in the Tasmanian dairy industry, John Bennett’s name is synonymous with leadership, courage and change. Now it will also be linked to “legend”, as John accepts the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural 2017 Farming Legend of the Year Award.

John is a founding partner of Ashgrove Farms and up until his retirement during 2012, was the Chairman of the Ashgrove Cheese Pty Ltd. With an integrated business approach, John headed Ashgrove Farms helping it become one of the strongest, most successful dairy farming family businesses in Australia with Ashgrove Cheese Pty Ltd to become one of Australia’s leading premium independent dairy brands and on-farm manufacturers.

But John is humble in his achievements, and puts it all down to just getting on with things and doing what he thought was right for his family and the dairy industry.

“My focus has always been the farm and how we as an industry could work together to make things better,” John said.

“I initiated the idea of starting on-farm processing during the early 80’s, when unemployment in North-West Tasmania was high. Together with my brother Michael and son Paul, we began building the ‘factory in a paddock’ during the off-dairy season. We could process milk, cheese, cream and butter all on-farm. It got a lot of attention because at the time it was pretty unique, but that is where Ashgrove started and I am very proud of how far we have come.”

In addition to building a successful business and brand, the past 60 years has seen John play a significant role in shaping the modern Australian Dairy Industry. He has a strong commitment to dairy research and helping dairy farmers and manufacturers to better compete, grow and stay market relevant.

John played a considerable role in the development of the Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme, which was formed during 1982.

“Establishing the scheme involved significant challenges as it needed all States to cooperate and provide the data required to identify the best animals genetically in the national dairy herd,” John said.

“We managed to get everyone talking and today we see how successful the scheme has been. Dairy cows in Australia are as good as anywhere in the world.”

John was also involved in the reforms implemented to the industry’s marketing system during the 1980s. Up until 1983 the dairy industry operated under an outdated marketing system developed during the 1930s, with the need to change widely recognised. Under John’s leadership the industry remained united and could successfully negotiate essential reforms to the industry’s structure.

Paul Bennett, Chairman of Ashgrove Cheese and John’s son, is incredibly proud of his father’s contribution to the Australian dairy and farming industries.

“I don’t think there is a person who has done more for agriculture in Tasmania and in Australia than my father,” Paul said.

“To be as progressive as he was and to recognise the food movement 30 years ago, and the concepts of premium branding, shows incredible foresight. We now employ 100 people across the factory and the farms, with a multi-million-dollar turnover.”

“Dad has never been out to make a huge personal financial gain from what he does. Everything has been invested back into the farm and into the Tasmanian community. That’s just what he does.”

Mayor of Meander Valley Council, Craig Perkins, said John is a “bit of a legend” in the region.

“John is well known in the community of Elizabeth Town and Deloraine, in terms of growing their dairy business,” Mayor Perkins said.

“He is an innovator, a risk-taker, who was prepared to grow and protect his business through things like investing in rotary dairies, state-of-the-art irrigation and his own hydro-electricity on the farm.”

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