There is continuing discussion as to the efficiency and competitiveness of dairy production in the subtropics. The example of northern Australia is used to describe the historical development of a commercial dairy industry in the subtropics, the complexity and productivity of present day systems, and projections for the future. The present farms have substantial capability to increase productivity, based on substantial increases in stocking rate, which is in turn supported by increases in irrigation, and in inputs of conserved fodder, cereal grains and by-products. The capacity of the farm to grow forage forms the basis of the feeding system, and the business can be further expanded on the base by substantial use of purchased feeds. Efficiency measures, in terms of milk production per cow and per hectare, and in use of natural resources, labour and capital, can all be increased through these means.
It is important to give more emphasis to evaluating feeding systems within the wider context of the whole farm. The system must be efficient in use of land labour and capital, and acceptable to the modern community. Future developments are likely to be in methods of doing this, particularly in assessing the impacts of feeding systems on farm business management and whole farm planning. New technology has the potential to benefit subtropical dairy farming through assisting in building feeding systems which use the natural advantages of the subtropics, and in making more rapid improvements in the genetic potential of plants and animals than has been possible in the past. We need to remain aware that the future feeding systems in the subtropics may look quite different to those in present use.