Melanie Ackerley has learnt there’s no place like home when it comes to learning more about the dairy industry.
Melanie was due to take part in the 2020 United Dairyfarmers of Victoria – Gardiner Dairy Foundation New Zealand Dairy Study tour which was firstly deferred due to the state’s summer bushfires and then cancelled because of COVID-19.
Undeterred by these setbacks, Melanie joined the inaugural 2021 UDV-Gardiner Victorian study tour and says the experience was every bit as valuable as anything across the ditch.
“We’ve got so much to learn at home,” she said. “There are plenty of dairy farms in Victoria and every farm is different. We went to farms that were really open and transparent about what they’re doing and it was a great learning experience.”
As applications open for the 2022 Victorian tour, Melanie says the June 2021 event inspired her to reconsider how she farms with husband Paul and their three young children at Larpent in south-west Victoria, and to continue expanding her horizons.
“The big thing for me is making sure we have a good balance between being on farm and off farm,” she said.
“The tour made me realise it’s important to get out and be with other farmers and learn from them and that’s what I’ve been doing as we come out of COVID. I didn’t come home and change anything specific about our farm – it was more about the bigger picture.”
Melanie grew up on a beef farm and studied in music and health before finding her niche as a dairy farmer.
She says the knowledge and contacts gained from the tour will be invaluable.
The tour started with networking opportunities in Melbourne and also took in dairy, goat and camel farms in south-west Victoria, northern Victoria and Gippsland.
“We went to farms I’ve driven past but never really thought about and now I got to find out more about their systems,” Melanie said. “The goat dairy at Meredith and camel dairy at Kyabram were interesting and we got to visit a number of dairy farms operating in different ways and on different scales.
“We saw cows living in barns, robotic feeding systems and dairies, learnt about the irrigation system in northern Victoria and how people are using different way to build equity in the industry.
“Whenever you get on farms and see what other people are doing, it gives you food for thought.”
Melanie was particularly impressed by how one northern Victorian farmer had “simplified everything to make the farm easy to manage”.
“He knew 100 per cent why he was there and I thought we’ve got to do that; remember why we’re here and what we want to do.”
Melanie and Paul purchased their Larpent farm four years ago and have made big improvements to the dairy, water system and sheds as they have grown their herd to 220.
If they need advice as they progress, Melanie says the tour created lasting relationships and a new network of contacts. Apart from getting insights into the inner-working of the industry through meetings with the UDV, Gardiner Dairy Foundation and Dairy Australia, she says farmers were keen to stay in touch.
“New Zealand would have been amazing but we had so many things to take away from our tour. I now feel more connected to other farmers locally and around the state.
“Everyone looked at it as being the start of a relationship and the farmers we visited were happy to answer any questions we might have in the future.”
Melanie is now fully committed to her farming family after leaving her off-farm work in healthcare, and the tour reinvigorated her commitment as an ambassador for Dairy Australia, a pilot program to promote the industry to the broader community by speaking at events, schools and in mainstream media promotions.
“It has been curtailed a bit due to COVID but is about to ramp up again,” Melanie said. “There will be ongoing opportunities for me to represent the industry in some way and I’m excited about that.”
“We’re really loving life on the farm,” she added.
Applications for the 2022 tour are now open and close at 9 am on Monday, 16 May. Further details about the tour, including application forms and contact details can be viewed at www.gardinerfoundation.com.au/studytour.
To be eligible, applicants must be aged between 18 and 35 years, live and work in Victoria, be actively involved in the Victorian dairy industry, either on farm or in the supply chain and be available for travel between 4 and 11 July, 2022.