IF THERE’S one program that sums up what our dairy industry is about, it’s Focus Farms.
The three new Focus Farms that are just starting in Gippsland will see ideas discussed, preconceptions challenged and significant changes made to the farm businesses involved.
But much more importantly, all the knowledge shared and lessons learned will be spread among the support group of local farmers and service providers and, from there, out into the wider Gippsland farming community.
I’ve seen first-hand how Focus Farms can make a positive difference to every person involved. As a support group member for Drouin South farmers Sean Allen and Jen Clough, I watched good young farmers become even better at what they did.
It wasn’t a one-way street, however. More often than not, I’d drive home with fresh ideas for how to manage my own pasture, herd or finances. The brainstorming sessions challenged me to question if I was making the most of every opportunity and how I could improve the farm business.
The current Focus Farms will be starting on that same journey that Sean, Jen and so many other Focus Farms have taken since GippsDairy and Dairy Australia first funded the program in 1998. With the possibility of a tough climatic season ahead, these farms will no doubt benefit from the combined experience of the support group around them.
It’s just as important that the rest of us can access that knowledge, especially when the weather doesn’t do the right thing or milk prices put the squeeze on cash flow. I know I have benefited from being in formal discussion groups or just picking the brains of successful farmers who have seen all the ups and downs that the industry can dish out.
If we do face a tough year (the weather bureau is tipping a drier and warmer than average spring), getting together with neighbours and friends to swap ideas and nut out problems is one of the best things any farmer can do.
It doesn’t have to be a formal discussion group, it can just be a casual get together or even a chat when you bump into someone in town.
This is an industry and a region in which farmers have a rich history of sharing knowledge for the common good. Whether it’s a Focus Farm or a kitchen table catch-up, we can all help each other be better at what we do — it just needs someone to start the conversation.
• Grant Williams
Gipps Dairy chair