Gippsland dairy farmer Graeme Nicoll was awarded the Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship in 2010, sponsored by Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

Graeme, along with his wife Gillian, owns and operates a 240ha dairy business at Fish Creek in Gippsland, Victoria. They milk between 250 and 300 crossbred cows and run a small beef herd. Graeme embarked on the scholarship with an interest in the impact of social, economic and climatic variations on modern dairy farms.

“Like many modern farming systems, while productive and efficient, they are very vulnerable to change. I would like to develop my understanding of the science of resilience and what can be done to improve the resilience of dairy systems in southern Victoria, which produce almost half of Australia’s milk. I think a greater understanding of the processes driving change can help us develop farm systems that can cope with variation and remain strong and productive businesses,” said Graeme.

A year of global learning

The scholarship year begins with the Global Focus Program – six weeks of international travel in China, North America, South America, Middle East, India and Europe – during which scholars investigate agricultural marketing and trade issues, environmental issues and experience the different social and cultural aspects of each region.

“Travelling on the Global Focus Program developed lifelong friendships and was a great way to begin the Nuffield scholarship year. To travel the world to pursue your subject of interest with a network of contacts is a life changing experience and one not to be missed.”

Graeme then moved his focus to his interest in resilience in dairy farming systems. With dairy industries becoming increasingly variable and milk-market prices fluctuating, Graeme wanted to delve into the resilience science from both theoretical and grass-roots angles – and investigate how it can apply to dairy farms and coping with such variability. With an interest in high rainfall areas, Graeme travelled to New Zealand, the UK, Sweden, Netherlands, France and the US, and found that successful operators shared a similar approach which involved applying forward thinking to their business operations, and having an awareness of the changing environment.

Lessons from abroad

Graeme returned home with a wealth of insight – he brought home practical examples of on-farm resiliency solutions, such as cross-breeding and pasture utilisation, and a new appreciation for communications in the agricultural sector. He found that many of the successful businesses he visited were adept at sharing knowledge and interacting, and he sought to help some industry organisations in Australia tweak their strategies so as to better interact with farmers.

He also returned home with a healthy appreciation for pasture based dairy systems in high rainfall areas of Australia – counting them as ‘some of the strongest, most sound dairy systems in the world’.

“A Nuffield scholarship is an investment in yourself and your business that will pay back tenfold. The opportunity that the Nuffield Scholarship provides in gaining a deeper understanding of global agricultural issues has enabled me to put our own business and Australian agriculture into a global perspective.”

Graeme is now the Secretary of the Victorian Branch of Nuffield Australia and in 2013 was nominated to the position of Deputy Chair on the Board of GippsDairy.

Follow him on Twitter: @hoddlecows

Listen to an interview with Graeme here.

Click here for his full report.