When a passion for cows grew too strong for one townie, she took the Primary ITO route to a better career on farm.
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Invercargill assistant herd manager Laura Murdoch, who is the 2022 Southland/Otago Dairy Manager of the Year, swapped a desk job for cows and grass and has learnt through Primary ITO.

Dairy farmers engaged in training with Primary ITO constitute the biggest single sector in terms of people studying. In the past year 5731 people in dairy farming undertook some form of study and completed 1833 programmes, and overall 18,000 people have engaged in training across 21,000 programmes.

Primary ITO aims to help New Zealand’s primary sector flourish by growing people’s skills through leading work-based education and training across the many industries in the primary sector. A spokesperson for Primary ITO said the organisation supports on-the-job training, which it believes is the future of learning.

Learning can be supported by online and in-person delivery where those are the best options. People earn while they learn, and businesses get value from their staff from day one. Support is provided from start to finish right through from introductory programmes and the schools-based Trades Academy, through to apprenticeships and management diplomas.

“At Primary ITO we pride ourselves on being up driveways, at the end of dirt roads, on the factory floor, online or in the classroom. Whatever it takes to support our learners,” a spokesperson said.

“We also design the programmes that enable people to gain skills and qualifications in their chosen field.”

Laura Murdoch knows full well the value of Primary ITO, having moved from a desk job to dairy farming. She now works as an assistant herd manager for Chris Reilly on his 89ha, 250-cow Mokotua property. Earlier this year, she was named 2022 Southland/Otago Dairy Manager of the Year. She also won three merit awards for Livestock Management, People and Leadership, and Personal Planning and Financial Planning.

Growing up as a townie in Invercargill, Murdoch had her first taste of dairying as a teenager when she tagged along with a friend who was working on a farm. She liked what she saw, but a wrist condition meant she was unable to go farming.

Leaving school, she went to work in administration and learnt accounting while on the job and gained several qualifications. She kept a small hand in dairying during this time by doing relief milking in the weekends.

It was around that time that she met a Primary ITO training adviser and asked about the programmes available.

“I wanted to get some qualifications and be as upskilled as possible. I also wanted my CV to reflect that I was qualified and competent,” Murdoch says.

In 2016 with her wrist condition deteriorating, she took a break from her accounting job and had surgery to correct carpal tunnel syndrome.

But rather than return to the office she decided to get into the dairy industry as that was where her passion lay.

“I was relief milking on a farm and heard that one of the workers was leaving so I went and had a chat with the owner and asked him to give me a chance,” she says.

Now she is an award-winning Southland dairy farmer who loves sharing stories of the cows she works with and the industry she works in.

“I love my cows and I love showcasing them and the industry and how rewarding it is.”

She says learning through Primary ITO made her more marketable.

“I felt the training gave me a better chance at a job in the industry,” she says.

“I realised that if I wanted to get into the industry, I needed a piece of paper to say I had done these courses and had learnt so I could be as competitive as possible against other applicants.

“I have a passion for learning, progression and animal welfare, as well as excellent best-practices for farming in general. And I wanted to be the best employee for a good employer.”

She began studying the Primary ITO Milk Quality One programme and Animal Husbandry Level 3 at the same time.

“From there I just started smashing out programmes.”

Her CV now includes a list of qualifications she’s completed through Primary ITO, often studying two programmes at once. Most recently she completed the New Zealand Diploma in Agribusiness Management (now known as the New Zealand Diploma in Primary Industry Business Management) and Level 5 Primary Industry Production Management at the same time.

She puts her success down to being given opportunities to learn and grow in the industry and says the casual environment in which she learnt was a lot better than school.

“It was great to meet like-minded people and bounce ideas off each other. That was really invaluable.

“I would not be where I am today if I did not have the help from Primary ITO. They do so much for those who are wanting to learn. My tutors have been really awesome, especially my main tutor who challenged and pushed me to achieve more so that I am the best person that I can be. For me and my job that has paid off.”

She aims to be a leader in the industry and inspire others with her journey and the joys of dairy farming. She has popular Facebook and TikTok pages where she shares her mahi and love of cows.

“I’d love to showcase the joys and highlights of dairy farming, it’s a very rewarding industry to be a part of.

“I like to showcase the industry and how rewarding it is. I love my cows. It is just me and my manager here, so my cows are my workmates and friends – they are massive cuddly dogs really.”

Globally, consumers can’t get enough of the quality and taste of American dairy products. Foreign exports of American dairy are twice the volume of the nation’s domestic dairy consumption. Last year, about 18% of U.S. dairy production was exported, and economists forecast that percentage to grow more than 25% in 2023.

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