Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Dairy graduate programme celebrates success

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The graduates are mentored through comprehensive modules led by respected rural professionals and exceptional local farmers. 
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The early success of the fledgling Grassroots Dairy Management Graduate Programme was showcased in Ashburton at a graduation function of the programme’s second intake of up-and-coming dairy industry leaders.

The programme initiative was sparked by a local dairy farming benchmarking group considering how to bring more progressive and results-driven young people into the dairy sector – those who could become the next generation of dairy business operators. 

From that discussion the Grassroots Dairy Management Graduate Programme was born. It is run by a volunteer committee of seven local farmers, with the goal of growing tomorrow’s New Zealand dairy business owners. 

The graduates are mentored through 30 three-hour comprehensive modules led by respected rural professionals and exceptional local farmers. 

Module topics are vast and varied, including reproduction, fertiliser management, financial growth, pasture planning, environmental compliance and personal development.

Through what the graduates learn from the module sessions, combined with mentoring from their on-farm employers, the outcomes of the programme are providing an accelerated pathway to dairy management roles for university graduates while also assisting dairy farm business owners with future succession and growing a robust network of dairy industry professionals and leaders. 

Successful graduates are hired by participating farmers on an employment agreement with the farmers paying an administration fee to the programme, while providing a supportive working environment and learning culture.

In his address to the 2023 graduation ceremony, programme chair Campbell Tait said in its two years of existence the programme has cemented itself into the Canterbury dairy community.

“Supporters and employers have been amazing. The graduates are on a journey of personal development. This has been a strong platform with a valuable set of learning modules that is setting up the industry’s farmers and leaders of the future.” 

The inaugural programme last year took in five graduates, the 2023 year has graduated seven and there are nine enrolments for the 2024 intake in February.

The programme is structured to take dairy careers to the next level, learning through a fully supported programme similar to that offered in other rural professional graduate programmes.

Operating as a not-for-profit trust, the programme secured Rabobank investment and is supported by DairyNZ.

“The programme is well established now to grow, there is no looking back. It has blazed a trail for the industry.

“The challenge now is to attract and maintain good people, future leaders and future farm owners.

“This has been a big year for the graduates, many who are in the workforce for the first time. There have been some life lessons along the way but they are well set up to be industry advocates and future leasers.”

Speaking on behalf of the graduates, Harry Finch said: “We have connected and interacted with some of New Zealand’s best operators and industry leaders, benchmarking against each other as graduates with competitiveness driving our progress.

“We have established relationships with mentors and employers guiding and coaching us who have been, and will always be seen as, great role models.”

Guest speaker at the graduate celebration John Penno had words of career choice advice: 

“Number one, pick something with a future; number two, put yourself where you are going to learn the most, don’t worry about how much pay.”

The co-founder of Synlait Group and Leaft Foods, while talking about changing agricultural systems, said there will always be good options going forward.

“In the future we are going to need other things. We have had a good run for 30 years, we need to be conscious that is not necessarily going to continue.

“Remember you are farmers first, dairy farmers second.

“NZ has good resources, good land, good location, good climate – look for options that will create new opportunities for the futures as ultimately things change and they change because consumers change.

“We in NZ need to be focused on what the wealthy consumers want. Big change happens faster than predicted, being bold and early in change is important to pick up the opportunities.

“We need to be working to leverage the efficiency of NZ’s world leading food production systems.”

Answering a question from the floor – “Will there be a time when nobody eats meat?” – Penno said: “Not any time soon. 

“The issue, when the world eats 10% less meat or 10% less dairy, is the high-cost producers will go out of business.

“The low-cost producers such as NZ will carry on – hopefully.”

Building systems that work well beyond the farm gate require working together at catchment scale, making large scale difference together, Penno said.

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