He had no intention of returning to the family farm, but Scott Fitzgerald has turned his second career into a fast-growing success, based on a dairy holding rented from his retiring parents.
Despite the Victorian dairy industry’s well-publicised challenges in the past five years, the young Fitzgeralds have not just survived dry seasons and the big 2016 farmgate milk price collapse, their enterprise is growing.
Success, to date, has been helped largely by a strategic diversification into fodder production.
Lucerne hay enabled Mr Fitzgerald and his wife, Anna, to pay for their first 300 Holstein-based milking herd. It continues to help future-proof the family’s expanded commitment to dairying after they shifted into the premium-paying A2 milk category 18 months ago.
“Our relatively short time in farming has taught me to avoid having all our eggs in one basket,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “Having our own feed bank is a form of income protection.”
What started as a small-scale opportunity to lease a lucerne pasture block near Kyabram in northern Victoria has turned into an important part of the business model for the Fitzgeralds’ 2.8 million-litre operation, Warrina Farms, at Tongala.
They now own a 50-hectare block where more cost-effective centre pivot irrigation will take over from traditional flood-watered fodder production to help feed a herd expanding to 500 milkers in the next two years.
Other feed support options such as grain growing are longer-term possibilities as the business grows further.
“We’re very conscious that every season is not the same, so we want to eventually have a feed bank to survive a three-year drought,” Mr Fitzgerald said
A former refrigeration mechanic, Mr Fitzgerald found returning home has turned out far more than just a sensible lifestyle choice for his young family (four children now aged from one to seven). It provided a chance to make better practical use of his income ù and effectively launch a career as something of a dairy business “young gun”.