A word from an AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship Sponsor: Dairy Australia


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AgriFutures Horizon Scholar, Julia Payne

Opinion Piece: The Power of Capable People

This opinion piece co-authored by AgriFutures Horizon Scholar Julia Payne and Dairy Australia, who are a sponsor of the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship program, explores the role of capability development in ensuring our industries have an adaptable workforce who are able to manage the increasingly sophisticated farm systems we are seeing emerge.

Written by April Browne, Sally Roberts, Felicity Blackstock and Julia Payne

The 2030 Roadmap proposed by the National Farmers Federation, articulates an ambitious target for production growth in Australian agriculture of $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030, the success of which is measured through targets related to five key pillars.

Recent research by the Tasmanian Institute for Agriculture (TIA) found that nearly 60% of farmer respondents identified a shortage of people and capability as one of the top four areas limiting growth of the Tasmanian dairy industry over the next 10 years. This sentiment is not limited to the state of Tasmania nor dairy, but is nationwide and cross sector and the demand for capability is never more evident than for people who are the leaders of our farm businesses – the farm managers.

Market and technological changes have fuelled rapid growth in average farm size and with this, a subsequent increase in the complexity of farm business structures and growing demand for increased business management capability across the agricultural workforce. The role of the dairy farmer now extends beyond the paddock into the office, and the capabilities required of farm owners and managers demands a diverse, business-centric skill set. Our future farm managers require well developed business acumen with capability strengths in strategic thinking, critical analysis, decision making, problem solving, human resource management and effective communication. Furthermore, to ensure true success, farm business managers will also be effective leaders, possessing the vision, self-awareness, motivation and innovative thinking to empower others and drive farm businesses forward. With this in mind, there is a need to develop specific learning opportunities to meet the capability needs of our current and future dairy farm managers so they may work smarter, not harder in achieving industry growth targets.

As the fourth highest contributor to Australian agricultural GDP, with a total annual farm gate production value of $4.4 billion, the dairy industry is embracing the role of ongoing learning for capability development of the dairy farm manager workforce as a driver of farm business profitability, sustainability and industry growth.

In 2019, Dairy Australia in partnership with farmers and the higher education sector, embarked on an ambitious project to develop the capability of the current and future dairy farm manager workforce. Through multiple complementary pathways, people wishing to pursue a career in dairy farm management, including those who are currently studying at University and those already in the workforce employed in pre-management and management roles, are provided with a clear learning pathway to develop the capabilities required to pursue this career and reach their goals. As farm businesses continue to become increasingly sophisticated, tertiary education is one enabler of capability development for the on-farm workforce, particularly those fulfilling senior management positions.

For undergraduate students, including those sponsored by Dairy Australia through the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship program, work integrated learning opportunities including work placements, field projects and farm visits are being offered to develop foundational technical knowledge, professional networks and strategic applied thinking required for successfully fulfilling the role of dairy farm manager. Students are working directly with dairy farm businesses to address business challenges and identify new opportunities for business growth. Students are also developing their professional networks, learning alongside farm business owners in real time through industry extension initiatives. These experiences are positioning graduates to be work ready for on-farm roles in new ways that have not been done before.

For those currently employed on farm in pre-management roles, new initiatives arising from partnerships between the dairy industry and higher education sector will provide a fresh opportunity for prospective dairy farm managers to develop the skills and knowledge they require to effectively operate a dairy farm business in the 21st century. These will include core capabilities in leadership, people & culture, farm systems, business development & strategy and financial management which underpin the profitability and sustainability of dairy farm businesses.

These industry initiatives ensure Agriculture, and dairy, is well placed to be considered as a career – both for those looking to enter or already engaged in the industry. Developing future capability via structured pathways is essential for individual, business and industry success – enabling retention of skilled and capable farm managers.

First and foremost, we must recognise that farmers are business people and if we are to have profitable and sustainable businesses which achieve ambitious growth targets, we must actively pursue and invest in capability development of our people as a key driver of success. The dairy industry is committed to building the capability of our farm managers so they may have the knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviours required to be adaptable, resilient and prosper in the dynamic operating environment we find ourselves in as agriculturalists.

For more information about learning and development opportunities for current and future dairy farm managers, contact April Browne (Lead Learning & Development Partners, Dairy Australia) .

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