By Sarah Collier
When Lucy Collins was five years old, the late Max Jelbart OAM, a Nuffield Farming Scholar and member of the Nuffield Australia Investment Committee, gave Lucy her first calf. Many years later, Lucy is a Nuffield Scholar herself.
“I’m really proud to be part of something that Max was a part of. He gave me my first dairy calf that I named Barbie after his brilliant wife Barbe,” Lucy said. “The way he and Barbe gave back to the dairy community was humbling. I’ve always known what Nuffield was because of him, and thought it must be something pretty special if he’s a part of it.”
Lucy grew up in South Gippsland where her parents own an agricultural contracting business. Lucy now lives in Dixie, in Western Victoria, working alongside her husband Matthew on the family’s dairy farm. “I help out when I can and when I’m needed. We’re milking 750 autumn calving Holstein and Holstein crosses,” Lucy said.
She is also putting the finishing touches on a Masters in Veterinary Science (Dairy) at Melbourne University, focusing on public perceptions and welfare enhancement in the Australian dairy industry.
“I had clients in northern Victoria that were supplying milk to a processor who required annual welfare audits. The welfare assessment program that was being used wasn’t fit for purpose in a pasture based dairy system, and the farmers were discouraged” she said. “Once I looked into it, I realized that these assurance programs are very common overseas. It made me want to investigate better options for Australia. Which then led me to my Master’s degree and Nuffield.”
The Nuffield experience
The Nuffield scholarship is an opportunity for a farmer to investigate an agricultural topic of their choice and to innovate on their own farms. Successful applicants spend a total of 14 weeks travelling the world over two years.
During her scholarship, which was funded by Gardiner Foundation, Lucy spent time in the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States, Canada and Singapore. “Travelling with Nuffield was a really fascinating and eye-opening experience,” she said. “Singapore formed part of my group’s global focus program. It was amazing to experience a country who manages their food security so differently.”
The experiences she had during her travels not only opened her eyes to all the possibilities the dairy industry has available, but also on how other countries handle the same challenges as Australia. “We saw everything from micro to mega dairies, from 12 to 40,000 cows,” she said. “But no matter the size of the business, there were a lot of similarities across countries. Labour shortages, public perception, climate volatility, input costs and access to water were challenges almost everywhere, for example.”
One of the things that resonated the most for Lucy was that farmers who were operating businesses that reflected their strong beliefs seemed to be the most fulfilled, successful, and sustainable in every country. “The core values differed from farm to farm, but wherever we went, those were the farmers that stood out. They were also conscious of the expectations the community had of them, like being a good employer and treating their animals right,” she said.
One big part that made her experience such a positive one was the warm welcome she received wherever she went. “It didn’t matter where we went, they happily gave up their thoughts, time, beds and food,” she said.
Creating relationships and building important connections was an invaluable aspect of Nuffield to her. “The network you end up with and lifelong friendships are amazing. I’m now connected to so many farmers around the world, it’s amazing,” Lucy said.
Once Lucy started the program, her expectations and goals changed with her experiences during her travels. “Because of the nature of the program, you become a part of a global community and have a lot of opportunities for leadership and advocacy. I now have a stronger drive to have a crack at some of those opportunities closer to home. I feel a certain responsibility to help represent and give back to the dairy industry which has invested in me,” she said.
There’s no perfect time
Lucy has recently begun work as Animal Health and Welfare Manager for Fonterra, a role that came as a direct result of her participation in Nuffield.
She encourages anyone who is interested in Nuffield to apply. “There’s no perfect time to do it. If you’re thinking about the scholarship but you’re coming up with reasons why it’s maybe not the right time, I’d challenge you to really stretch yourself and go for it. You won’t regret it,” Lucy said.
“I’m exceptionally grateful to Gardiner who supported and invested in me. I have come away from the experience realising how important it is to invest in developing people and leaders in our dairy communities,” Lucy said.
Applications are currently open. For more information and to apply please visit www.gardinerfoundation.com.au/nuffield.