People: the long-term future of dairy
After nearly 50 years of dairy farming, Maffra’s John Vardy is quick to identify the most important investment in the industry’s long-term future: people. Which is why he’s formed partnerships with three young farmers on his three Gippsland properties, two in the Macalister Irrigation District at Maffra and the other at Meerlieu, between Stratford and Bairnsdale.
“The industry definitely needs young people in it,” John said. “It’s just a matter of trying to get good people to manage our farms and share the load.”
The lifelong Gippslander was raised on a dairy farm nearby and, with wife Julie, has run Mewburn Park farm for the last 33 years. Mewburn Park began as a beef farm in 1842, but the Vardys are the first to run it as a dairy. They’ve built the business up to 2200 cows spread across the three properties, all of which supply Murray Goulburn Co-Operative. John is passionate about the Co-Operative’s work to return profits back to its farmers.
Son Ryan runs one property, while locals Craig Fletcher and Glenn Warren manage the other two. Each has a 50-50 split partnership with John.
“I’ve backed off a bit with the hours I do and I’ve discovered you need help,” John said. “Getting the partnerships going with the three guys is probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“John is someone that I’ve always looked up to,” said Glenn. “He tucked me under his arm and has been very good to me. He’s very keen on keeping me in the industry.”
“I think dairying chose me,” said Glenn, a third-generation dairy farmer who did a carpentry apprenticeship before the call of the land brought him back into dairying 15 years ago. “It’s not just work to me. It seems more natural to be a farmer. If you’re dedicated to it, you’ll get a lot out of it and be well-rewarded.”
John says that financial assistance programs are also critical to help young people get a foot in the door. He’s been particularly impressed by Murray Goulburn’s ‘Next Generation’ financial assistance initiative and Cowbank, a leasing program that enables young farmers to borrow money on cows alone and gradually build up their equity in the herd.
“Glenn’s bought half the cows, about 300, and he pays them off. Hopefully he wants to buy the other 300 and then either lease or buy the farm,” John said. “I think it’s probably the only way for young people to get ahead today.”
John says part of attracting young people is having good facilities and technology, such as installing his second 60-stand rotary dairy. This rotary will replace the existing swing-over system on Glenn’s share property.
“It’s been a great exercise,” John said. “It’ll give Glenn a lot more opportunity to employ better people. It’s better for our cows too.
“It’s just benefit after benefit. We couldn’t see ourselves dairying here in 20 years with the shed we had. Sooner or later we had to make that decision.”
“I would have loved to be a doctor or a dentist where they charge a lot more,” John said. “But it’s about the challenge, the rural life, the people and just achieving. There are some tough times but it’s about the long term. It’s not just about five years or 10 years. It’s probably about 30 or 40 years and if people hang in there, there’s a reward at the end.
“Long-term, we’re hoping for them to be farmers for their whole lives.”