For young people working on dairy farms across Australia, the Young Dairy Network (YDN) provides an opportunity to meet, connect and learn from other young people working in the industry.
More than 2500 members are involved in the YDN's eight regional networks that operate in major dairying regions around the country, partaking in workshops, on-farm field days, professional and personal development opportunities, study tours, leadership programs, career pathway guidance and mentoring.
Being a network that is built on engagement and social connectedness, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of regular activities have been felt by the YDN.
To ensure young people around Australia can still engage with one another and with industry mentors, many of the networks have made a switch to online delivery, using web-based conferencing tools such as Zoom to stay connected.
For some members, this has presented an opportunity to connect with young people in other dairying regions for the first time.
The networks have offered seasonal webinars covering topics such as dairy nutrition, mastitis management, pasture management and calf health.
YDN members have also been able to be involved in development programs such as Milking and Mastitis Management and Farm Business Fundamentals, which are completed through a mix of online delivery and on-farm implementation.
In western Victoria, the WestVic Dairy YDN has powered on with plans they had leading into the pandemic to review and rejuvenate their local network.
With the support of WestVic Dairy YDN coordinator, Heather Smillie, a small group of young farmers and service providers formed a 'Think Tank' to redesign the network.
Experience has shown that the YDN thrives when young people have a role to play in deciding the purpose of the local network and how it should be run, so that the YDN is able to deliver engaging and meaningful activities for members.
The group held workshops via Zoom over several months.
Together, they set a new strategic direction for the YDN and brainstormed exciting new events and programs.
Think Tank member and dairy farm owner, Matt Grant highlighted the value of the Young Dairy Network in providing peer support to help one another grow.
"I am part of the Think Tank because it's an opportunity for me to give back and help other young people transition through the industry, just as older farmers have helped me throughout my dairy career," he said.
"The YDN is a great way for young people to get more out of our industry and advance their careers, but also help one another succeed."
Cate Jago is the youngest member of the Think Tank but has already managed to squeeze three years of dairy farm work, a Certificate 3 in Agriculture and part-time work as an AI technician into her young life.
"I think young people are looking to connect with lots of different people in the industry, understand what all the different potential career paths are, and figure out where they could fit in," Cate said.
"So, I think networking and socialising across the industry is a really important part of the YDN."
With conditions around coronavirus changing so frequently and creating uncertainty for the YDN, the Think Tank organised their plans into a framework of varying levels of restrictions to allow the network to continue and grow by switching between different activities.
Having delivered their strategic plan in August, the members of the Think Tank will continue to drive the network forward as part of the new WestVic Dairy YDN Leadership Team.
Like many networks across the country, the WestVic Dairy YDN has benefitted from the contribution of young farmers and service providers whose commitment to the industry and inspiring visions for the future have contributed to its success.
The YDN continues to welcome new members.
Get in touch with your Regional Development Program (RDP) to get involved.
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