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Youngest WVD Board member sees a bright future

At 26, Michael Hawker is believed to be the youngest ever WestVic Dairy Board member but he’s not daunted by the challenge.

In fact, he’s inspired by the idea of bringing a youthful perspective to the Board and contributing to the industry he loves.

“There’s a lot to learn about the strategy behind everything, but I think I have something to offer and it’s good to get the views of young people,” he said.

“I think outside the box a bit so hopefully I can contribute and give back to an industry that has given a lot to me.”

Michael started rounding cows when he was just four years old on the same property north of Heywood that he now farms with his parents Francis and Leanne, and sisters Tennille and Kylie.

In 2008, he attended his first WestVic Dairy function, a ‘Spring, Pasture and Silage’ day at Macarthur. 

“It was nothing revolutionary but I came away with a couple of one-percenters that could save or make some money for us,” he said.

“It became like an addiction; what else can I find out? I connected with the Young Dairy Network which was life-changing. It opened enormous opportunities and was a stepping stone to the Board.”

After leaving school, Michael completed a mechanic apprenticeship, learning skills that still come in handy on the farm, but he was always headed for life on the land.

“I always wanted to come home to the farm but when I wanted to leave school, mum said I couldn’t come home until I had a trade as a back-up. Now I’m able to farm full-time and tinker with cars in whatever spare time I have.”

Some might think milking twice a day is monotonous, but Michael says being a dairy farmer offers so much more. “It’s a good lifestyle with a lot of flexibility. It’s a job that’s never the same from day to day and year to year; there’s always a new challenge.”

He admits this year has been challenging for dairy farmers, but that’s just part of its appeal.

“I compare it to driving a car,” Michael said. “Everyone gets bored on a dead flat and straight highway, but everyone loves going for a drive down the Great Ocean Road where there’s something to see, and a tight corner here and a tough spot there. I love things to be engaging and entertaining. You don’t fall asleep along that road.”

Michael admits the rollercoaster has been going downhill lately but he sees an ascent on the horizon. “We’re starting the climb back up to a scenic place at the top but we know it won’t be a straight line, there’ll be some checks along the way.”

As one of four new Board members, Michael believes WestVic Dairy can help farmers through the tough times and the good times.

“In every adversity there’s opportunity,” he said. “I’d love for WestVic to deliver the best programs and be the go-to point for all farmers.

“The strategic side is put together by the Board but it requires farmer input. The levy is collected from all farmers and we need all farmers engaged.”

Michael is a strong advocate of the Legendairy communications initiative that raises the profile and reputation of the dairy industry. “It’s critically important that we maintain a good image,” he said. 

A lot of people don’t realise what it means to have a social licence to farm and we have to make sure consumers aren’t swayed by wrong information.

“The price crash was devastating, but in the media storm it was uplifting to see the general public supporting agriculture and dairy farmers.”

As for Michael’s future in the industry, he can’t see himself doing anything else.

The family farm covers 680 hectares, with 600 Holstein and Jersey cows plus about 200 heifers and 200 yearlings.

“I plan to stay in dairy and long term I’d love to have an additional farm. Dairy can be profitable but you need to be on the ball with your education, your thinking, and your management and finances.

“I don’t ignore the challenges and the negatives, but I can’t let them drown out the positives.”