Listening to a podcast while he milks 450 cows each day is one way Gippsland dairy farmer Aubrey Pellett stays connected to the world of ideas he experienced first-hand through the Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship.
“When you travel through 15 countries, you meet a lot of people that are really succeeding at a higher level,” Aubrey said.
“What struck me is they are often people who spend a lot of time working ‘on’ the business, not ‘in’ the business. In dairying, because it’s a seven day a week routine, you can be consumed by the operational activities. So, I have been trying to carve out time to focus more on longer-term thinking.
“In Ireland I met a dairy farmer who listened to podcasts while he worked in the dairy. I’ve taken to listening to a few too. I like BBC’s Business Daily. It covers a broad range of business-related stories. You sometimes want information that’s not dairy related; it’s a way to try to broaden your horizons.”
Aubrey supplies 2.8 million litres to Bega Cheese annually from a 200ha farm in Hill End, north west of Moe.
While he says people in the industry are very good at sharing information to pull each other forward, the lasting benefit of his 2014 Nuffield tour has been the fresh perspective it gave him.
“The study tour is a very intensive journey. You do a lot of travel, see a lot, meet and interact with hundreds of people across so many cultures. It gave me a much greater perspective on the dairy business,” he said.
“It’s not just dairy farms you see. I probably learned more from non-dairy businesses; horticulture, grain farming and agricultural entrepreneurs. You take little snippets from all their different approaches.”
One standout for Aubrey was seeing some farmers making their businesses more resilient by buying feed when prices are low.
“Travelling in Texas, I saw a lot of dairy farmers had huge stock piles of feed on hand; sometimes one- or two-years’ supply. It got me thinking about the benefits of buying feed at low prices and using it later on. I’m now more proactive in my approach to managing our input prices. Instead of just purchasing on the spot market, I’m taking more contracts on grain ahead of time, where you lock in the price.
“The Nuffield experience makes you reflect on what you do on your own farm. You know that sometimes you can’t replicate what you see, but you can often take aspects of it and weave it into what you do.
“The experience has certainly given me more confidence to look for solutions. Now, if I’ve got a problem, I think – I’ve been around the world and been stimulated by different types of solutions. That makes you think there’s probably another approach you could take rather than do what’s always been done.”
Aubrey’s scholarship was sponsored by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation which backs programs like Nuffield to invest in people, science and technology to support a vibrant dairy industry.
“I am indebted to the Gardiner Foundation. They were extremely supportive. They asked if there was anything they could do to help; provide contacts, connect to other networks and make introductions to a mentor.
“The scholarship has increased my leadership opportunities because of the improved networks I now have. You are also hooking into a network of Nuffield scholars that has been developing for the last 60 years. It’s huge!”
Aubrey had his first introduction to Nuffield scholarships as a teenager growing up in New Zealand.
“Our neighbour was a farmer who often had visitors from the UK coming to look at what he was doing. He was a Nuffield scholar, so that’s when I first heard about it.
“Then, later, living in Victoria I met a few other Nuffield scholars like Graeme Nicholl and Adam Jenkins; they encouraged me to apply. I was very interested to hear their Nuffield stories.
“My story is that it’s a hectic experience. I remember as part of the travelling, waking up in China and visiting a horticultural greenhouse business for the day, then flying that evening through the US (as a stopover) to Canada at midnight, and then having blueberry pancakes for breakfast. The contrast in farming operations, language, food, culture and technology all give you that new perspective.”
Applications for the 2020 Nuffield Scholarships close on Friday, June 14. For more information, visit http://nuffield.com.au/