As a city kid, Renata Cumming dreamed of living in the wide-open spaces.
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Young leader is pursuing dairy dream
Renata Cumming was recently named the Great South West Dairy Awards Young Dairy Leader.

Today she’s recognised as a young leader in the dairy industry and is doing her bit to break down stereotypes about women in the industry and to promote farming on her Instagram account.

It’s a long way from Brunswick or her uncle’s sheep farm in north-east Victoria to the green paddocks of Naringal in south-west Victoria, but Renata is loving life as a fully-committed dairy farmer.

“I never particularly enjoyed the city,” she said.

“I was a country kid born into a city family. All my holidays were on farms. I liked the big open spaces and really enjoyed practical hands-on work.”

Renata never considered careers in other industries, choosing to study agriculture at Dookie in northern Victoria, following in the footsteps of her grandfather and uncles.

“I had assumed I’d end up in wool because that was my experience growing up, but there weren’t many options in the industry, coupled with finishing uni during the 10-year drought.”

However, dairy jobs were being advertised.

“Even though I’d never milked a cow, I was attracted to the job diversity and opportunities,” Renata said.

Young leader is pursuing dairy dream 1
The cows have quickly adjusted to the rotary dairy on the new leased farm, and Matt Grant is enjoying the improved efficiencies.

A friend’s father offered a job on his farm at Maffra for the calving period and she stayed in the region for nearly five years, working on different farms as a farmhand.

“As the only female on all the farms, I was often encouraged into milking and calf rearing and didn’t do much of the tractor work but that didn’t faze me too much,” she said.

Renata moved to north-east Victoria for 10 years with jobs in sales, event management and as a Fonterra field services representative.

She met her partner Matt Grant at a conference and moved to south-west Victoria in 2020 where Matt had been sharefarming with his parents on a 243-hectare farm at Scotts Creek since 2009. Six years ago, he purchased the 121ha neighbouring farm.

Young leader is pursuing dairy dream 2
Renata was new to the area and wanted to meet people, and quickly became part of the organising team for Cream of the Crop.

Around the time Renata relocated, they fired up the dairy on Matt’s farm, and started running one herd split between two dairies, with all of the labour-intensive jobs like calving, joining and herd testing completed in one dairy, and the other dairy operating as a milking-only facility.

“We did that for nearly two years and that posed some challenges so we started looking at options for efficiency,” Renata said.

They considered many possibilities and were ideally looking to purchase a larger and more efficient farm. They were still in the market when their milk company approached them about an alternative opportunity.

“John and Kathy Dalton were looking to lease their farm at Naringal and after doing our due diligence, we could see this was a fantastic progression for our business,” Renata said.

“The leased farm is 750 acres [303ha] and we aim to capitalise on the farm’s infrastructure and productive capabilities by milking as many cows profitably as possible.
“We’ll run the 300 acres [121ha] back at Scotts Creek as an out-paddock for dry and young stock.

“There is a great calf rearing facility here to rear calves up until weaning.”

Young leader is pursuing dairy dream 3
On- farm, Renata “fills the gaps” in everything from milking, calf rearing and bringing in the cows, manages most of the book Word, oversees safety protocols and farm HR.

They started the lease in September, purchasing 100 cows from John along with next year’s heifers due to calve in February, rapidly expanding the total herd to 500 to 600 head.

“John has been really generous with his knowledge about the farm, which paddocks are good at this time of the year, which paddocks we should lock up for silage and all those pearls of wisdom gained from decades of operating the farm,” Renata said.

The Naringal farm has different soil types, weather patterns and rainfall to the Scotts Creek property, which they will need to learn. The out-paddock will complement the operation and has the potential to grow extra fodder to export to the leased property.

Two experienced employees are continuing on the leased farm, and a recruit is coming from The Netherlands through a 482 visa, while a retired dairy farmer will continue to help on the out-paddock.

On-farm, Renata “fills the gaps” in everything from milking, calf rearing and bringing in the cows, manages most of the book work, oversees safety protocols using the program Safe Ag Systems and farm HR.

Being new to the region, Renata was keen to meet people, particularly local women in dairy.

She met dairy farmer Chloe Brown through Matt’s involvement with Fonterra Australia Supplier Council, and vet and dairy farmer Lucy Collins through Instagram; together they devised the first Cream of the Crop event for dairy women.

“Chloe and Lucy made similar comments about how challenging it can be to meet other women in the dairy industry and how wonderful it is to make supportive connections when you move to a new area,” Renata said.

“Our dream was that women could feel comfortable to come together and learn about different areas of the industry, to ask questions and network, and it was a raging success.

“We had people reach out and ask is it okay to come — I only do the books or I only rear the calves. These are super important parts of a farm business but there are women who don’t value their role within a farm.

“I love the idea that we might be empowering women to value their role in these diverse farming businesses, whatever that role may be.”

Jess Brown has joined the organising committee and Cream of the Crop will return next March 1 and 2.

Renata and Matt are just new to the leasing arrangement but are already enjoying the challenges.

They have been calving three times a year, which Matt started years ago when he was doing most of the work himself and could only cope with 100 to 120 cows calving at a time, and also to suit a flat milk curve and fresh milk contract.

“Once we’re settled in, we want to review our farming processes, including calving patterns, feeding programs and general systems, to better align with the new farm’s capabilities,” Renata said.

“With the farm on a fresh milk contract, we are required to meet industry best practice in areas such as sustainability, animal welfare and farm safety.

“These are things we are striving to achieve anyway so it’s great to have our hard work met with a premium milk price.”

Renata said the cows had settled well after the move from a herringbone to a rotary dairy.

“We’re loving the efficiencies. Matt was milking 160 cows an hour in the herringbone, the rotary can milk up to 300 per hour.”

Renata was recently named the Great South West Dairy Awards Young Dairy Leader, following in the footsteps of Matt who previously won the same award.

The judges praised Renata’s passion for dairy and the broader agricultural industry.

“She has had a diverse and exciting career in the dairy industry that has given her experience across milk processing, the service sector, on-farm, supporting dairy events and connecting farmers with opportunities to sell their products,” the judges said.

“I feel incredibly honoured and humbled although I never set out to be a leader; I just do the things that are important to me,” Renata said.

“I’ve always been involved in community projects. I love buying local produce and always wonder how we could better support local producers and help people improve their connection with food.”

Her Instagram account now has nearly 1000 followers and aims to bridge that gap.

“It was initially about showcasing what we do on-farm and I love the idea that I can show consumers how we are producing a quality product with love and integrity, to help them connect with where their food comes from.

“Too often I hear farmers complain about people buying cheap imports; we need be part of showcasing locally-produced products if we want to change buyers’ behaviours.”

Young leader is pursuing dairy dream 4
The Naringal farm has different soli types, weather patterns and rainfall to the Scotts Creek property.

China’s dairy imports have slowed amid rolling Covid lockdowns and a weakening economy that has many analysts slashing their 2022 and 2023 economic growth estimates for the country.

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