Farmer Focus: Different dairy systems can learn from each other

I am a big believer in people power; the insight a single individual can bring to your farm business.

It may simply be by being a fresh pair of eyes, a chance comment from a farmer at a farm walk or the wisdom of older people who farm and the lifetime of experience they have seen.

It may not always be positive – such as the student who believes a cigarette lighter is the best tool to remove twine from straw bales – but, on balance, we have found it has always proved worthwhile to invest in people.

When the opportunity came up to host a Dutch student for a farm placement this summer, we jumped at the chance.

Our student has a background in high-input dairying and, while our once-a-day system is the polar opposite, there has been some really interesting discussions and insights into each other’s businesses.

See also: 7 staff management tips from a dairy farmer

The similarities are that we both milk cows with our families in rural regions and we realise the biggest challenge facing the dairy industry is sustainability and consumer sentiment.

It is becoming increasingly important to demonstrate how we farm in an environmentally conscious way, while at the same time carving a decent income and ensuring a work-life balance.

Bridging the gap between consumer and farmer will become about how we tell our farming story and begin to see our farms as shop windows.

Shop windows tell consumers about a product’s value, whether they are marketed as low fat, organic or healthy, demonstrating the problems they solve and the benefits they bring.

Dairy farmers deliver an excellent product, but our marketing skills often leave much to be desired.

Consumers are more likely to believe negative propaganda on billboards in relation to farming instead of the fact milk is a sustainable product that not only benefits rural communities and economies but is also an excellent health food.  

Our student has sparked ideas that merge farming sustainably with consumer engagement, seeing things in a different light.

Hopefully, she might take home some valuable insights too, perhaps the value of work-life balance and family time and the knowledge that once-a-day milking is not so crazy after all.

Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland. Read more.