Young up-and-coming dairy industry leader Nicholas Bailey says Kiwi farmers are great at growing grass, but need to work just as hard at growing people.
“It’s people who will make or break your business so it’s worth investing the time and effort to properly train and nurture staff so they don’t burn out. These guys are the future of our industry. We need to look after them and grow them as well.”
Offering flexible rosters and helping new staff master one skill at a time are two ways in which employers can help encourage more young people into the dairy industry, he says.
“In 10 years’ time those people could be the ones who are keen to buy your property or buy a herd of cows to go 50/50 with you. If we can get them set up right from the start our industry will be looking pretty good in the long-term.”
Nicholas has himself had an ideal introduction to dairying, having begun milking cows when he was a 13 year-old living in rural Carterton.
“I asked the neighbour if he would teach me how to milk. Now he only had 100 cows but it was a start, so every Sunday I would jump the fence and ‘go to school’ as it were.”
Relief milking jobs on several farms soon followed, and the teen set his sights on obtaining an Agriculture degree at Lincoln University.
But after three months he’d had enough.
“I just found myself sitting around a lot of the time and getting bored. I thought ‘farming’s where it’s at’ and I’ll study with Primary ITO instead. Why pay thousands of dollars to study when you can earn $50K and study at the same time?”
Over the past five years Nicholas has ticked off a long list of qualifications with Primary ITO - including a Level 4 New Zealand Apprenticeship in Dairy and a National Certificate in Agriculture (Beef Cattle Farming). He is now just finishing up a Level 5 New Zealand Certificate in Production Management.
His commitment, and the support of various employers along the way, saw him named Dairy Trainee of the Year at the 2016 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.
“The industry awards are great for benchmarking yourself, seeing what you’re good at and what you need to learn. It’s also opened a lot of doors. I got my current job through word-of-mouth within the industry awards community. If you get a good reputation people will sit up and take notice.”
The 23 year-old is now farm manager overseeing up to seven staff and 750 cows on a dairy farm in Woodville near Palmerston North. He says formal training through Primary ITO, combined with networks and contacts, on-farm training and the dairy industry awards programme, have helped to build a promising career.
“For me it’s not about getting the ‘piece of paper’ by doing these courses, it’s the opportunity and the ability to expand and deepen my knowledge and link it with what I am doing on farm every day.
“The Primary ITO course content was always relevant to my job and the topics are tailored to what’s happening on the farm at particular times of year - for example, we study calving management prior to calving, and pasture quality at the start of spring.”
Nicholas is now preparing to launch himself into a Diploma in Agribusiness Management and hopes to one day go 50/50 sharemilking before achieving his ultimate goal of owning his own dairy farm.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have had employers who have been willing to teach skills and pass on their knowledge and encouraged me to study,” he explains. “It is this combination of on-farm knowledge and skills, combined with the theory behind what we do on farms, which has been so beneficial.”