WITH rising land values, particularly in traditional dairy areas, farm ownership may not be an option for many young people coming up in the sector, but according to a panel of young dairyfarmers, there are many paths into the industry.
Beck Middleton and Duncan Irving, who sharefarm at Meningie, Perrin Hicks, who leases a dairy from his parents and runs it in partnership with another farm at Mount Compass, and Don and Jen Stolp, who sharefarm with Chris Proctor at Kongorong, all passed on some of their experiences in moving through the sector.
For Ms Middleton and Mr Irving, a desire for work-life balance meant when they did have capital to invest into a farm, they decided to look at an irrigation block rather than a dairy farm of their own.
“If we owned a small (dairy) farm, and it will be small, we would have a big debt and no room to move,” Mr Irving said.
“This is a bit more flexible, and we still get income.”
This flexibility means Ms Middleton has had more time to spend off-farm, involved in broader industry work, such as acting as the programming chair of the Australian Dairy Conference in 2017.
“In the past five or six years, I’ve spent more time off-farm, meeting people all over the world and bringing fresh ideas and practices back into the business,” she said.
“It’s giving (dairy) the excitement I had when it was all new.
“It’s reinvigorating to get that back again, 13 years down the track, through industry work.”
Located about one hour south of Adelaide, high property prices at Mount Compass can be limiting, while several dairy farms have closed.
Mr Hicks said the right timing on a lease for his parents’ dairy farm gave him the opportunity to “make mistakes” for himself, rather than for his parents or another manager.
At the same time, forming a partnership with his former employer Warren Jacobs allowed an extra cushion in a new business.
He still has a goal of owning his own farm but that is not his only plan.
In the next five years, he hopes to double production and then potentially look at incorporating robotic technology.
One day, he could even bring in the third generation to work on the family dairy farm.
Mr Proctor said his experience of moving into the dairy industry in New Zealand inspired him to want to encourage new people into the industry.
“I was very fortunate to have two people I worked for,” he said.
“Their investment into me really influenced my life.
“We need these young people in business.
“I am prepared to give up some of the return of capital in my business to give them a pathway to grow.”
Mrs Stolp said surrounding yourself with the right people was key to moving forward.
“What we’re doing is not an easy thing to achieve so we need to surround ourselves with people that will help us reach our end goal,” she said.
Mr Irving said mentors, like opportunities, are “where you find them”.
“You can learn from nutritionists, vets, tanker drivers,” he said.
“But you need to be prepared to listen and not have an ego.”
Mr Hicks said he had been allocated mentors during his time with the Young Dairy Network, and they had become influential in his career.
“I still talk to them every day,” he said. “But every single person that is older than me and has been involved in the industry is someone to learn from.”
He includes in this list his agronomist, his father and his business partner.
“Any opportunity to expand knowledge, you’ve got to grasp those moments,” he said.
Mr Proctor said those looking to grow in the industry should be looking to create networks with those that could help them learn.
“Do homework on who are the good employers that will pass those skill-sets on,” he said.
But he said there was also opportunity for established dairyfarmers to consider how they could help those coming up.
“Not every farm will have the opportunity, but if you’ve got people within the farm who are showing leadership, they may not have the capital, but there are other ways to bring them into the business,” he said.
Mrs Stolp said these lessons had helped guide them to where they were.
“If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said I wished we’d started sooner, but to have 10 more years of learning strategy and learning about dairy life has meant we were able to do our homework,” she said.
Ms Middleton said it was important to make sure relationships were right, especially when forming what could be long-lasting business relationships.
“If you’re looking for a sharemilking role, take time to look for the right farm,” she said.
“The first one isn’t necessarily right, it might be the third or fifth, but it might be the first.
“If there is any shadow of doubt in mind, don’t do it.”
Ms Middleton said those coming in should also be mindful of not letting a dream to be part of the industry take too big a role in their life.
“You need to have a life outside the farm, otherwise, what’s the point?” she said.