TONGALA dairy farmer Scott Fitzgerald will continue to work towards a bright future for his farm – and the wider industry – after being awarded a Rabobank Executive Development Program scholarship.
Scott was one of two dairy farmers in Northern Victoria selected by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation in partnership with Victorian Regional Development Programs.
The scholarship aims to develop the business management and leadership skills of the state’s dairy farmers.
As the newly appointed chair of the Australian Dairy Conference Programming Committee for 2018, Scott said the one-year scholarship was already equipping him for challenges ahead.
“The course kicked off recently with a six-day program in Sydney where farmers from all around Australia received training – mostly on public speaking and business management,” he said.
“It really pushed me. Of course, it was valuable to hear from business professionals, but it was also amazing to meet up with other like-minded, driven farmers from different farming fields.
“Coming out of the course, I feel a lot more confident in myself, particularly with the conference coming up. I’m so thankful to the Gardiner Foundation for supporting me with this scholarship.”
Participating farmers will spend the next 12 months developing individual business plans which will be presented at the end of the course.
“Over the next year we’ll all communicate over WhatsApp and email, with one farmer updating the group on the development of their business plan each week,” Scott said.
“Whoever puts forward the best idea will win $5000 and present it to the next round of farmers.”
While Scott’s initial business plan centred on increasing milking to three times a day on his farm, he and his wife Anna eventually changed direction.
“Having a young family of four kids, it’s important to have peace of mind. I just don’t think I’d have that if we increased to milking three times a day,” he said.
“It would transform our farm from a 12-hour operation to a 24-hour operation – and with 330 cows at the moment, it’s probably not worth the extra stress.
“Instead, I’ve changed my project to be a comprehensive five-year business plan.”
Scott said the course was opening his eyes to the bigger picture of dairy farming.
“You can tend to get your blinkers on when working on the farm and just focus on the day to day. But sometimes it’s important to step back and say, ‘Are we wearing ourselves down? Have we streamlined our processes enough? How can we improve?’”
Gardiner Dairy Foundation chief executive Mary Harney said the scholarships, awarded as part of its flagship Farm Business Management Program, would provide recipients with valuable development opportunities.
“It is essential for farmers to be equipped with the skills required to manage their own businesses and take control of their future,” Ms Harney said.
“This is the resounding aim of the FBMP and we strongly encourage leadership development, so as to give back to the dairy industry and widely spread the benefit.”
The Gardiner Dairy Foundation has contributed $1 million to the FBMP over three years as part of its commitment to people development across the Victorian dairy industry.