Dixie dairy farmer Brad Collins wants to hear more farming voices in community leadership roles.

In 2019 Brad participated in Leadership Great South Coast, a community leadership program that gave him an opportunity to develop his leadership skills. He was sponsored by Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

Brad says he’s now more confident talking to people from different backgrounds and more aware of how others view the dairy industry.

He learned more about the local community and was able to foster a better appreciation of agriculture among fellow participants.

“It opened my eyes to the region and the people in it and it gave me the confidence to talk to them,” he said. “I now understand everyone is capable of being a leader, you just need passion and belief in yourself.”

Brad is a third-generation farmer and runs the dairy business with his wife Tammy at Dixie, south of Terang. They milk about 240 cows, almost half the previous peak, but for Brad this is a more sustainable and profitable balance.

He says the leadership program helped to inspire his “cleaner and greener” farm.

“It’s not about being a greenie but listening to peoples’ needs and growing our businesses to suit those needs,” he said.

“Bigger is not always better and we should always strive to be better. I wanted to make my farm self-sufficient, environmentally sustainable and profitable, and that’s what the community wants as well.”

While Brad gained life-long benefits from the leadership program, he often felt like a lone voice for farming communities.

Lone voice

“The hardest thing for me was being the only one from an agricultural business. It made me feel like I had to stand up for everyone in business.

“I think it’s important to have farmer representation. Our communities wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for agriculture.”

Brad wants that farming voice to grow and he’s encouraging other dairy farmers to nominate for the Gardiner Dairy Foundation leadership scholarship.

Gardiner Foundation supports leadership opportunities for people working in the industry and in dairy communities because the vibrancy and health of dairy communities is as important as what happens on farm or in milk factories.

“We need to give people a better understanding of the dairy industry and agriculture in general and we need to understand the differences between town communities and agriculture and see how we can bring them together.”

Brad is using his strengthened leadership skills to work for the dairy industry, joining WestVic Dairy as an associate board member and participating in discussion groups.

Brad has also started planning an on-farm community art project and is pushing the region’s credentials as Australia’s food bowl.

During the program, Brad was part of the Gateways to Growth community project to support the Great South Coast Food and Fibre Council, which promotes the region as a premier food and fibre destination.

“Every day I look back and realise how much I got out of it. I can now appreciate the different ways people think and build that into my thoughts and even into my farming practices,” he said. “We’re building the dairy industry but it’s not about the way we want to do it; it’s the way consumers want it.

“There are a lot of good positive stories throughout the dairy industry and we want them to be told.”

Gardiner Dairy Foundation is currently inviting applicants for its 2021 Regional Leadership programs in south-west Victoria, Gippsland, northern Victoria and north-east Victoria. Apply at: https://www.gardinerfoundation.com.au/vrclp/