South Gippsland dairy farmer Mitchell Jones recently completed an 8-day journey in New Zealand as part of a study tour. While he was hoping to return with new leadership skills, he returned with much more – a family.

“It was the trip of a lifetime. What made it so great was the people. We weren’t all dairy farmers, we had agronomists, animal health specialists and supply chain professionals. Having such a diverse group of people means I got to learn more about the diversity of the industry,” Mitchell said.

“It didn’t dawn on me till a few days into the tour that everyone on it was at the top of their field. It was a rigorous process to get selected, consisting of an application and an interview, and really, I think this pushed us all to apply ourselves and get the most out of it.”

Beginning in Christchurch, the twelve young dairy farmers and dairy industry professionals visited farms and industries on New Zealand’s South Island with a focus on innovative farming methods, sustainability and leadership.

New Zealand dairy farmers are among the world’s most sustainable, with one of the lowest carbon footprints for milk. 27-year-old Mitchell said gaining insights into how New Zealand farmers tackle regulatory issues was like looking into the future.

“New Zealand farmers are dealing with grazing caps, nitrogen limits and other government regulated items that impact operations. It was important for me to gain insight on how they are managing these things.”

“It ignited a thirst to get more involved in our industry here. Having experienced what may occur in the next 15 years, is motivation to prepare for those changes, rather than being caught off guard.”

The Gardiner Foundation, a self-sustaining philanthropic organisation with an aim to benefit the dairy industry and dairy communities, has been funding the tour since 2008. Now in its 16th year, the New Zealand Study Tour ran in partnership with the Australian Dairy Conference.

Gardiner CEO, Allan Cameron said it’s important to learn more about dairy farming in New Zealand to share knowledge for the benefit of our local industries and communities.

“The New Zealand Study Tour is a fantastic opportunity for young dairy professionals. It allows them to immerse themselves in all that the New Zealand dairy industry has to offer.” Allan said.

Mitchell is part of Cypress Grove where he and his family milk 800 Holstein cows. He says it’s vital for young people to look out for opportunities if they are interested in dairy and that the industry is not just about farming.

“When I was at school, I really had to push hard to get trained to work in dairy, the options weren’t promoted. If it wasn’t for me asking questions, I wouldn’t have gone to TAFE and ended up where I am today,” Mitchell said.

“We live in a rural area, it is agricultural. The opportunities are there – you don’t have to be a farmer, there are so many connections, through agronomy or nutrition to be part of this industry.”

Less than a week since returning Mitchell has already spoken to everyone from the trip, a network he now has available to tap into whenever he needs.

“We all had different backgrounds, but the one thing that connected us was dairy. I honestly didn’t think we’d have such a tight bond, like a family, and that would end up being the best part of this experience.”