Ronnie Hibma has already shown he can jump when opportunities come along.

Twelve years ago, Ronnie started his Nexus Herd Development business; six years ago he bought a dairy farm at Denison and last year he added a nearby cropping farm to his portfolio.

This year has been one of reinvention and life-changing experiences. Ronnie and his wife Julia have welcomed their first child, daughter Esme, and he has taken the next step in his personal development by completing the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), supported by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

Ronnie admits he’s not averse to risk and hoped the leadership program would help him to be prepared for what lies ahead.

“I’ve got a real passion for that type of education, though my goals have changed a bit in the past year,” he said.

“At the time I put my name forward I was quite focussed on governance but that’s now on the backburner a bit. We have a three-month old baby and have branched out into crop farming so what I thought would be a five to 10-year goal is now probably 20-30 years.

“A baby changes your focus a bit and the program helped me to re-focus by learning techniques around reflection and working out my priorities. I’m now more aware of what I want to do and where I’m at.”

Ronnie and Julia live in Melbourne but maintain close ties to Gippsland. They oversee their 400-cow dairy farm which is operated by sharefarmers; Ronnie works with older brother John on their joint cropping farm and the herd development business crosses the region.

He describes the leadership program as “inspiring” and expects it to create life-time friendships and benefits.

“It’s very in-depth, experiential learning, very high calibre and diverse,” he said.

The ARLP brings together a group of about 30 people each year and aims to develop stronger leadership within the communities and industries of rural, regional and remote Australia. It takes place over 15 months and includes five sessions across Australia and Asia.

“We started with a two-week session in the Kimberley Ranges with a focus on developing self-awareness and branching out from that to family and community,” Ronnie said.

“I’m a big believer in preparing yourself for opportunities, without necessarily knowing what they’ll be. After the leadership program, I feel I can position myself to take any opportunity that comes up.”

While developing his leadership skills, Ronnie also knows the value of listening and ensures his farms and business are supported by “great people and structures”, which has led him to create advisory boards for his dairy farm and herd development business.

“The board brings together a combination of skills to oversee the business. I can get their opinions and insights without any obligations. I’m very comfortable with risk but the advisory board has some more conservative minds that hold me accountable.

“There’s real value in putting the information together for quarterly meetings and calling on the experience and diversity of members.”

One of Ronnie’s ARLP alumni is on the board and he works with another on the East Gippsland Food Cluster.

“The main changes I’ve felt from doing the program are my self-awareness and understanding, but I’ve also made life-long friends.

“Everyone is from different industries but we have so much in common and the program breaks down walls, so you feel comfortable speaking to them about things.”

Ronnie praised the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, which sponsors a Victorian dairy applicant each year, for supporting industry people to improve their skills. “It is very valuable and I’d encourage anyone in the dairy industry thinking about it to try it.”

Gardiner Dairy Foundation CEO, Dr Clive Noble, said Gardiner’s sponsorship provided a pathway for Ronnie to develop his natural leadership skills.

“Supporting dairy farmers like Ronnie has always been a high focus area for the Gardiner Dairy Foundation. We know that with his training through the ARLP, he will continue to make a positive contribution to the industry,” Dr Noble said.


Applications for the 2020 ARLP scholarship are now open and will close in early August. Victorian dairy farmers interested in applying can visit to submit their application.