People first in dairy industry

WHEN dairy consultant Penny Williams kept seeing the same issues coming up with her clients and their employees she decided to do something about it.

Mrs Williams has been running her own consultancy business for 20 years and said many of the problems stemmed from difficulties with farm and business culture.

She said if the values and goals of the employer and their employees do not align, then it is very difficult to make those relationships work successfully over the longer term.

“We have a pastoral award and people need to be paid properly and you can do all the legal side of things and that’s all fine,” she said. “But we’ve got to have businesses that have a fantastic culture and understand why people are working for them. People don’t just stay in a job for money, that’s one of the third or fourth reason they’re in a job.”

Mrs Williams said it was well known the dairy industry was struggling to attract and retain people. Her solution has been to develop a unique program that helps give participants the skills to analyse their own businesses and farms to see where improvements can be made to the overall culture and how they look after their people.

The first Fire In the Belly-Dare to Dairy program wound up last week with a full-day workshop at Ulverstone. Fifty participants from across the state took part in the program, which is believed to be the first of its kind for the dairy industry in Australia.

Consultant Sian Savage from Savage Rural Business has been working with Mrs Williams on the program and said from her experience in business coaching there is a real need for this sort of skills development.

“This is the first time we’ve run this program and we’ve got 50 farmers on board from word go, without really knowing what they were getting into,” she said.

“But they all want to make that change, so it’s such a special thing to see.”

Hannah Aldridge runs a dairy farm with her husband at Edith Creek and they are planning to soon move into a 50/50 share farming arrangement. “Trying to manage people and hold on to them is one of the biggest challenges we’ve had,” she said.

“The reality is farms are getting bigger and we need more people to do the work. If you can’t retain people you spend a lot of time doing it yourself and busting yourself trying to get there.”

Shona Wilson and her husband manage a farm at Natone and plan to move into share farming in the next few years. Mrs Wilson said being able to find and retain staff was a crucial part of a successful dairy business and that is why she had decided to participate in the program.

“I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of retaining staff and they’ve given us some really good strategies to help with that,” she said.

Jesse Weaver, who is originally from the United States, has been in Tasmania for nine years and is based at Bracknell managing a dairy farm and will move into a contract milking arrangement with his partner next season.

“We have a lot of emphasis in the dairy business on the business side, the system side, how to grow grass and milk cows,” he said.

“It seems like the people side is the third leg of the system and often that gets lost a bit. So I thought this was a really good way to strengthen that leg and stabilise the business as a whole.”