Cow, courage and curiosity were the themes of the 2024 Young Dairy Network (YDN) Conference held in Wollongong, NSW. Gardiner Foundation sponsored six young farmers from the Gippsland and Northern and Western Victoria regions.

Third-generation dairy farmer Billy Buckingham of Jancourt East in Southwest Victoria was one of the attendees. Billy, alongside his father and uncle, operate a 400 mixed herd farm. He said the conference was a great chance to learn from fellow young farmers.

“One of the best parts was getting the opportunity to meet new people. Some people were from farms with over 10,000 cows, others with 100 – while we all came from different farms and regions, the way we all go about things isn’t so different,” Billy said.

The 27-year-old returned to his family farm three years ago after working for Telstra in Colac, Melbourne and other parts of Victoria. He said he always knew he would return to farm someday.

“You know the saying – you can take the boy out of the country but not the country out of the boy. It’s true for me. I got sick of city life and my dad and uncle are getting older. I realised if I wanted to farm, I needed to come back sooner rather than later.”

“Getting involved is very important. There are a few younger people returning to family farms and we need to engage with them. I am on the committee of West Vic YDN, and we are ready to help drive change and renew enthusiasm among young farmers,” Billy said.

Chloe Brown from South West Victoria also attended the conference. Chloe is heavily involved in the industry as a co-founder of Cream of the Crop, a conference educating, encouraging and connecting women within dairy, and creator of the podcast, More Than Milk.

She said the conference achieved its goal of connecting young farmers form across Australia.

“What started as an idea to get young farmers in a room to grow their network and learn some skills turned into a 2-day conference for the Young Dairy Network for young farmers.”

“My key takeaway was “nothing changes if nothing changes” and “just do it” whether it’s starting something new, farm ownership or showing leadership within the industry taking every opportunity to say yes and having courageous conversations will lead to unlimited opportunities.”

Billy is also a big believer in the importance of change and putting yourself out there.

“Just attending the conference is a step towards change. I was one of the older ones and there were a lot of younger people that were just starting out. It was good to tell them there’s a benefit to what they’re doing now.”

“Patience is key. The stigma is, that a lot of young people want to be the boss straight away, I’m not sure where it comes from, but you’ve got to work towards, get that experience. Everyone in that room was there to put the work in, and that benefits the industry as a whole,” Billy said.

Sarah Kelly, a young farmer who has just stepped up as the Chair of the YDN network in Gippsland also attended the conference.

“I had an amazing few days representing the Young Dairy Network Gippsland at the Young Dairy Network Dairy NSW Conference in Wollongong. I have gained new leadership skills and many new ideas to implement on farm.”

The biggest takeaway from the conference for Billy was the people. Already he’s been connecting on social media and continuing to share experiences with his new network.

“I definitely made lifelong friends. People from Victoria and different states like Tasmania We’ve been Snapchatting and Facebooking, sharing our days, driving the tractor and working on farm.”

“I still have friends from my Telstra days, but nothing compares to having friends that understand farming, and I wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t put myself out there.”