Opinion: AHDB – a valuable resource for learning and support

This month, I am proud to take up a new role as a member of the AHDB Dairy Board.

As someone with almost no farming background, who has only worked in dairying for six years, and has never held a role like this before, you could either say it’s a great achievement, or they are mad to have picked me.

See also: AHDB money should go into one pot, says CLA chief

I’d like to think it’s the former and I’m looking forward to bringing my unique perspective to the board, as a young female farmer, a new entrant and a contract farmer.

Although the board offers experience and guidance, it must also represent the farmers it serves, and I’d like to think that in future, younger dairy farmers will be driving the industry forward.

I’ll also be waving the flag for joint ventures, which are already becoming more common.

During my relatively short career in the industry, the AHDB has been an invaluable source of information and support.

Our local knowledge exchange manager invited us to host a two-year programme of Calf 2 Calving meetings on our farm.

We learned a huge amount about all aspects of heifer rearing, from birth through to calving. Through improved colostrum protocols and regular weighing, our heifers are doing better than ever.

It was great training for our staff, and a good way to meet local farmers.

I’ve also enjoyed participating in Women in Dairy meetings. Moving from an office where well over 50% of the workforce was female, to a farm where all the staff were male, the vet was male, the accountant was male and the sales reps were male, was a shock to the system.

Women in Dairy gave me a chance to meet other women in my position, share experiences and learn.

Being given the opportunity to speak about my path into dairying at the 2018 conference was an honour, and hopefully showed some other young women the kind of opportunities that are available to them in the industry.

In the past couple of months, I’ve taken webinars on the use of sexed semen and writing a business plan, and a talk by the renowned Lloyd Holtermann from Rosy Lane dairy in Wisconsin, USA.

Lloyd’s system is the complete opposite of our extensive grazing setup – a housed, high-yielding Holstein herd.

But everything he had to say about growing a business, managing staff and breeding healthy, sustainable cows was so relevant to us.

To me this is what the AHDB is all about – sharing learning to improve our businesses.

I have experienced some more negative attitudes from farmers towards the organisation. They collect £60m in statutory levy from farmers and growers across the sectors, and some ask “what do I get in return?”

I’d say the more you put in, the more you get out. For those who choose to engage, there is a wealth of resources available.

Of course, some people will never engage, and that’s their choice, but the challenge is reaching out to those who could get real benefit from the AHDB, but aren’t currently doing so.

The results of the government review into the AHDB have been delayed due to Brexit, but whatever the outcome, the organisation will have a vital role to play as we forge a new position in the global marketplace. I’m looking forward to being part of it.

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