Life-changing project

By Country News

Cohuna dairy farmer John Keely was always happy to help local farming and football organisations, but never really considered himself leadership material.

However, three years after being sponsored by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation to complete his Nuffield scholarship, the recently elected UDV vice-president says it has changed his life.

Mr Keely had never applied for a job and the thought of signing up for a Nuffield scholarship and then writing a report was almost enough to put him off.

Now he says he probably would not have taken on the UDV role without the confidence and contacts gained from the scholarship.

‘‘I’d like to think it made me a better farmer who’s better able to contribute to the dairy industry,’’ Mr Keely said.

‘‘I learned to question things a bit more; get more information and make a balanced decision.

‘‘That’s really helped my role on the UDV. When you go to the next level, it becomes more complex and challenging, but at the same time it’s really rewarding.’’

Mr Keely is a fifth-generation dairy farmer who joined the family farm at the end of 1982 during what was then considered the worst drought in history, though it’s now way down the order.

Milking more than 300 mostly Holstein cows, he had earlier considered applying for a Nuffield scholarship but needed a topic to research.

‘‘A bit later I was sitting on a tractor pushing up manure and thought there must be a better way to utilise this; that’s how the topic evolved.

‘‘I thought it would be a challenge and if I didn’t go, I was never going to be happy with myself.’’

The scholarship took Mr Keely to Europe and the United States where he witnessed many innovative waste systems and learned how strict regulation inspired this innovation.

Ultimately, Mr Keely stuck with his waste management system but has become more strategic in its application, resulting in significant on-farm improvements.

But the benefits of the 2016 scholarship went much deeper.

‘‘I’ve now got a good idea of what’s going on in different countries and a myriad of contacts all over the world,’’ he said.

‘‘The information you pick up is invaluable and challenges your thinking and your planning, but it also gives you confidence to get out there and stand up in front of people.

‘‘When you sit on the outside, it’s very easy to have a simplistic view of the world and it definitely helped my leadership skills.’’

At 53, Mr Keely was one of the older Nuffield scholars but he said it was suitable for anyone.

‘‘There’s a broad cross section of ages and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone; it’s well worth it.’’

The Gardiner Dairy Foundation is encouraging aspiring Victorian dairy leaders to apply for its Nuffield scholarship, with applications now open for the program’s 2020 intake.

■Applications for the 2020 Nuffield Scholarships close on Friday, June 14. For more information, visit: nuffield.com.au/scholarships