Two south-west Victorian dairy farmers gained fresh insights into how their New Zealand counterparts are tackling production and environmental issues during a study tour.
Grassmere’s Majella Ryan and Dixie’s Tom Stuart were among seven young dairy professionals to take part in the eight-day UDV-run New Zealand study tour funded by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation. It aims to build the leadership capability of young people in the Victorian dairy industry.
A medical scientist, Majella works full-time at Warrnambool Base Hospital’s pathology department while living and helping on her family’s small 60-cow dairy farm at Grassmere with her father Pat and brother Matt.
A relative newcomer to the industry, Tom didn’t have any dairy experience before moving to Terang as a teenager but now he’s keen to learn more and stay working in the field.
Both young farmers say the tour opened their eyes to the broader picture of dairy farming while developing new connections with like-minded local farmers.
For Majella the tour showed how New Zealand farmers focus on costs and production outcomes while changing farming methods to improve the environment.
“They have a system that places a lot of emphasis on the value of production and breeding,” she said.
“They have a good grasp of costs and are very focused on what their cows are producing. I think it’s something we could do more in Australia.
“Both Majella and Tom noticed a disconnect between the city and farming, partially due to environmental concerns. One of the big issues facing New Zealand farmers is government legislation forcing them to cut nitrate leaching by at least 30 per cent.
“For some farms this means significant changes to the way they manage pastures,” Majella said.
“The general public was, rightly or wrongly, blaming dairy farmers for their deteriorating rivers so they’ve had to counteract that to improve their public image.
“Tom milks 500 cows at Dixie and says the New Zealand tour was inspiring.
“I’d never done anything as big as this,” Tom said. “Being able to get out there and experience things and look at different ways of farming was really helpful. People farm in different ways and it’s good to learn more skills and ideas and bring them back on farm.
“Tom wanted to compare cow management and use of centre pivots.
“How they use the water that flows down from the alps to the Canterbury Plains was one of the most interesting things and they use different tools to measure pastures.”
The different methods prompted much discussion about what could apply locally.
“You can always try different things or at least keep in mind how others do things,” Tom said.
“I lived on a beef property when I was young and didn’t have any dairy industry experience until I started milking cows when I was 14. I enjoyed it and was offered a job and I’ve been working full time for three years.”
Tom completed a school-based apprenticeship and is now studying a diploma in agriculture and the tour has inspired him to look at all career possibilities in agriculture.
“We had a great bunch of people and we all bonded and learnt from each other. Going to New Zealand showed me there are so many pathways in dairy and agriculture and it inspired me to go for what I want in life.”
This article was first published in R4A.