Dairy farmers and industry members came together to celebrate and acknowledge their peers at the 2024 Great South West Dairy Awards.

Rachael McGrath received the Young Dairy Leader Award, sponsored by the Gardiner Foundation, for her active contribution to the dairy sector and her community. Alongside her family, Rachael farms in Orford – milking 400 cows with stud Jerseys and Brown Swiss.

The 29-year-old has been a farm manager on her family farm for five years. While she has completed a Certificate IV in Agriculture and Diploma of Agriculture Leadership, Rachael says her interests are now moving towards agronomy and nutrition.

“I strive to increase my on-farm knowledge in nutrition, genetics, and agronomy. In those areas, I wish to be able to share with others what I have learnt along my path in the dairy industry.”

“I am working closely with my nutritionist and agronomist to learn and be able to make informed decisions with our dairy ration for the milkers and show team as well as pasture management and mixed species summer fodder crops,” Rachael said.

Rachel and her family have faced a number of crises and challenges over the years, including a farm accident, shed fire and herd and family health issues. She says it was seeing her own parents’ resilience and taking up opportunities that helped get her through each situation.

“There have been a few things that have happened on our farm over time. I believe I stand up well during a crisis after seeing my parents be so strong and resilient,” she said.

“In 2018, I decided to start pushing myself and learning more. This led me to enrolling at RIST for a Cert IV in Agriculture, where I then met other people in the dairy industry. They encouraged me to apply for the Gardiner Foundation New Zealand study tour.”

“The tour opened my eyes to the fact that there is more to this industry than putting cups on cows.”

“After the tour, I started to go to more industry events, including the UDV/VFF conference. There we spoke about our trip and experience, and I was then approached to speak at the Australian Dairy Conference about our “why” and our resilience.”

Rachael has been heavily involved in the dairy industry and clubs and organisations in her community. Examples of Rachael’s commitment are her involvement in the Dairy Australia Dairy Ambassador Program, Western District Jersey Breeders Club and WestVic Dairy Young Dairy Leadership Team.

Judges praised Rachel’s leadership qualities and her profound understanding of the importance of collaboration and communication in fostering positive change.

“Rachael’s accomplishments serve as a testament to her dedication and hard work in the dairy industry. Her willingness to promote dairy in a positive light is truly commendable and makes her very deserving of this award,” commented the judges.

Rachael says she sees a strong future for dairy with more opportunities for young farmers to get involved and says the industry can do more to continue to influence young people.

“The YDN in our regions across the state are working to get more engagement, by holding events that help on and off farm, more accessible training for farm workers so that we can all work in a safe and skilled environment.”

“The YDN is doing a good job for farmer engagement, but I think the industry should be trying to do more with schools to attract school leavers into the dairy industry. More information to them to let them know that to work in the industry you don’t have to just milk cows. I know personally when I was at school that I thought to be involved in the dairy industry you had to milk cows.”

“I love the dairy industry. I love being outside on the farm with the animals and networking with other farmers at industry events. These are the parts of the industry I hope to share with others to further strengthen it.”