Warren’s love for dairying remains `unbreakable’
In an ideal world Warren Davies would still be rising with the sun to milk cows on his northern Victorian dairy farm. However, like many farmers in the region in the early 2000s, high interest rates, low commodity prices, flood and drought forced Warren off the land.
But the tough times weren’t enough to dampen his love of dairying.
Today the dairy industry in northern Victoria has turned the corner and is again on an upward curve and Warren has turned to the next best thing to farming… talking about it.
The 47-year-old father of five from Kyabram has launched a new public speaking and consulting business `The Unbreakable Farmer’. He says resilience, persistence, and determination are what make a good `unbreakable’ dairy farmer and he’s had to use all those skills over the years.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Warren’s parents Ron and Sandra were small business owners who ran milk bars, butcher shops and post offices.
However, Ron always dreamed of becoming a dairy farmer and in 1982 fulfilled that dream. “One September holiday we visited friends at north Mooroopna and by Melbourne Cup day we were moving to a farm at Merrigum,” Warren recalls.
Initially they milked about 60 cows but five years later the family moved to a bigger farm at Tongala.
Warren admits he didn’t like school and left as soon as he could find a job. Dairy farming was his first choice and for seven years he worked as a farm hand at Merrigum. In 1989 aged just 22, Warren and his new wife Merrilyn bought the farm next door to his parents.
“We joined together and started a bigger family farm and kept growing the business,” Warren said.
In 1999 Warren and Merrilyn bought the family farm which continued to grow until the impact of the drought hit around 2004.
“That was a very bad time,” he admits. “We decided to get off the farm. We’d gone through a couple years of drought and there was no end in sight.”
The family, with a fifth child on the way, moved to Mt Gambier where Warren took on a farm management job.
However, in the downturn they couldn’t quickly sell the farm and had to meet loan repayments through agistment.
They later returned to northern Victoria to be closer to family and Warren undertook finance and business courses before returning to farm management roles and working in rural real estate.
The idea for The Unbreakable Farmer was born when Warren spoke with local farmers about selling their land. “They were thinking the only option was to sell. It got me thinking that maybe I could help these people.”
A year ago he decided to pursue an idea to remotely manage farms and set up his two-pronged business that covers farm management consulting and public speaking. “I do a bit of coaching and tell my story,” he said. “I think telling my story can help people. It’s not just about dairy farming; it can be related to any business or organisation.”
A supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry, Warren is keen to spread the word about how good the industry is, even though he experienced tough times.
“I wouldn’t swap being a dairy farmer or being involved in the dairy industry,” he said. “It’s served our family well; it’s just that circumstances were sometimes stacked against us. I still love being involved with the farms, the cows and the dairy people.”
Warren doesn’t shy away from the impact farming had on his mental health, finances and family. “It took a fairly big toll on our young family, especially at the time we were leaving the farm,” he said. We didn’t just lose our farm, we lost our home, our job and our identity, but we had to walk away. We had no other option. If we had stayed another six months the bank would have been knocking on the door, as it was with other people. We wanted to leave on our terms,” Warren said.
“Because of my experiences I believe I can help farmers, especially with people management. Farms have evolved from family businesses to employing people. That was one of my biggest challenges in going from farm owner to farm manager,” he said. “Most dairy farmers are good at managing cows, managing pastures and their farms, but the people side can be outside their field of expertise.
“In my consulting role I basically manage the managers. Until you step out like I had to, you don’t realise how good it is. That’s what keeps me going back to dairy and trying to help farmers.”
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