Ash Buckley believes the dairy industry offers enormous benefits for young people like herself, but says the sector needs a new plan to attract and retain its next generation.
It is hard to believe Ms Buckley is just 24, but her enthusiasm and passion for the industry makes her sound like someone with a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge.
Growing up on her family's West Gippsland farm gave her a taste of what being a dairy farmer was like, but limited local opportunities outside of the milking shed led to her taking up a job in northern Queensland.
"If you want younger people to stay within the dairy industry, they need to experience more than just milking cows so they can see the big picture and why dairy farmers are so important," Ms Buckley said.
The ongoing issue of retention of workers within the dairy sector is not a new one and a new ANZ Agri Infocus commodity insights report indicates it could be to do with a number of reasons.
One factor is the demand for sheep and beef which ANZ says is resulting in primary producers changing their operation, allowing fewer opportunities for young people to enter the industry.
"There are many drivers to the declining dairy farm numbers, however, recent limited access to international workers due to travel restrictions, along with increasing demand for property from beef and sheep producers, may increase the attractiveness of selling up," the report reads.
But Ms Buckley believes the fluid situation of the dairy sector could present a new opening for young people who were looking at gaining or furthering their careers, as older generations seek to step back.
"We need to get smaller dairy farmers who have the time to mentor the next generation of dairy farmers almost in a one-on-one situation," she said.
"I've been privileged to get that time with my boss but I hear a lot of young farmers like me aren't getting enough time to learn about the whole operation from milking to pasture renovation, livestock handling and even how to manage farm finances."
- A skilled workforce is essential for dairy's success
- Access to skilled overseas workers now easier for Australian dairy farmers
She is studying her Diploma of Agriculture and has already completed three certificates in agriculture.
Prior to accepting her role in Millaa Millaa, Qld, she had managed a dairy herd of 260 cows near Moe for a year, having worked for the owner as a farm hand in the five years prior.
Her new role up north consists of about the same amount of cows but does not involve management, an opportunity she hopes will lead to her learning more about the intricacies of dairying.
And despite owning her own home, the ability to travel and work interstate was too good to pass up.
"When I went over to the manager role in Gippsland, I was doubtful whether I could do it," she said.
"But I had a really supportive boss who told me even after 50 years in the job, he still made mistakes and even if you fail you can turn it around into a positive."
Ms Buckley said her local Young Dairy Network had also helped her develop some strong connections.
Farmers should set out clear expectations for workers: consultant
Dairy farm consultant Frank Tyndall has spent 40 years working in the dairy sector as a farmer, trainer and consultant, and says finding reliable and suitable labour is the biggest challenge dairy farmers face.
"It's hard to find good dairy workers but there are plenty of good dairy workers about," Mr Tyndall said.
"The problem is they are already employed and sometimes you have to think about how you can get onto the workers who are already working."
He said one of the most important aspects about attracting the right dairy worker was to present a solid job description that clearly laid out the expectations of the job.
"Farm workers in most cases don't want to work from 5am and still be working at 6pm that day unless they're paid overtime, so it's really important expectations are clear," he said.
"A great job description should be performance based and it should explain what good performance is and how it can be achieved.
"Often farmers will work until the job is done, but as for employees, that is not always the expectation so once you've got that job description, you've got something to monitor their performance against and a tool to help them improve performance through training."
Dairy farmer says finding reliable labour is a big issue
Fourth-generation dairy farmer Stuart Griffin, Westbury, Vic, is on the lookout for a full-time dairy worker but says it is become increasingly hard to find suitable labour.
Mr Griffin milks 520 cows with one full-time worker and two part-timers, and has employed three full-time staff in five years.
He admits it sounds like a high turnover, but says workers have left his farm for a variety of reasons including to upskill or work in other industries.
"From watching job sites and Facebook groups, it seems dairy farmers are having a lot of difficulty finding staff," he said.
"We've made our operation a good place to work by offering a good pay packet, being flexible, providing a friendly environment and offering opportunities for further education and that's why it's hard to find new workers because good staff are being looked after.
"I'm sure the dairy industry hasn't always been great at looking after their people so we need to look at ways to make these jobs attractive to new workers."
Want to read more stories like this?
Sign up below to receive our e-newsletter delivered fresh to your email in-box twice a week.
The story What's the best way to attract young people to dairy? first appeared on Stock & Land.