Dairy Farming

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Retention of people in dairy farming – what is working and why? Executive Summary and Case Studies

Dr Ruth Nettle, Augusto Semmelroth, Dr Rebecca Ford (University of Melbourne) Dr Connie Zheng, Aman Ullah (Deakin University)

Gardiner Foundation

August 2011

Executive summary

The sustainability of dairy farming relies on people wanting to work or invest in dairying over time. How willing people are to work or invest will change over time and depends on the relative attractiveness of dairying in terms of work and wealth creation. Dairy farming in Australia is shifting from an equity-based industry to a labour-based industry with a trend to concentration of farm ownership on fewer and larger farms, with a reliance on a paid workforce. To maintain or grow dairying therefore requires an understanding of how well dairying attracts, retains and develops its workforce.

This research places the focus on the retention of people in the dairy farming workforce. Once people enter into dairy farming, how well are they retained? What influences this and are there emerging issues for future farm workforce needs? How well people are retained contributes to business profitability (turnover is a direct cost to farm businesses); the supply of skills for current and future needs (people who are retained on farms or in the industry are gaining experience and skills for future demand); and, there is a greater return on investment from training or attraction initiatives.

Retaining people in dairy farming has received limited attention from research, particularly the link between the on-farm practices that support retention and the between-farm support mechanisms that provide career pathways in regions or in the industry.

This research sought to address some of these gaps by studying how people are retained in dairy farming. This is an essential area of work in the people strategy for industry sustainability (Dairy Moving Forward, 2010). The research represents a small and specific study into retention and focuses on what is currently working to retain and develop people on individual farms and in the industry as well as on identifying areas for intervention and change.

The research questions guiding the study were:
1. What processes are involved in aligning on-farm retention practices with employee needs and regional initiatives? a. What value do farmers place on retaining people in their farm business? b. How do employees experience efforts to retain them on-farm or help their career? 2. How can regional dairy groups enhance the retention strategies of farmers to improve industry workforce retention? a. What role can regional groups play in supporting retention of people in dairying more broadly (e.g. career pathways at a regional or between-region level?) The research involved:

• an analysis of industry data concerning turnover and retention on Australian dairy farms; • a literature review to establish global best-practice in retention in business and identify effective strategies that have been used in different sectors; • an analysis of employer practices and employee experiences of retention on 9 case-study farms chosen for their reputation for retaining people in their region. Seven of the case studies explored employment-based relationships and two of the case studies explored leasing and share farming arrangements; • a survey of 31 employees regarding their current experiences in dairy farming and an exploration of the main factors influencing intentions to exit employment. • a workshop with 3 Victorian dairy regional groups to consider the research findings and develop draft plans to support retention in their regions.

Defining retention

“Retention” in the context of this research is an employer-based concept and involves the systematic efforts of employers to: • create and foster an environment that encourages current employees to remain employed in their...
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