A dairy farm in South Australia’s Clare Valley has made the work so attractive that it prompted a UK backpacker to stick around longer than she anticipated.

Sarah Moore is from urban Manchester and had no previous experience on-farm when she arrived at Maneela Dairy.

“My background was working with young people, working in schools, summer camps. Never on farms,” Ms Moore said.

Originally coming to Australia to travel, Ms Moore and her wife Emily got stuck here when COVID-19 hit.

“We just didn’t want to sit inside so we quickly found a farm and thought ‘well, that’s better than sitting at home, we’ll go explore a farm and see if we like it’,” she said.

They eventually did get out to go travelling, but before long they found their way back to the dairy.

“The discussions started about me coming back … [but] managing a couple of areas,” Ms Moore said.

Backpackers Sarah and Emily Moore on their travels.(Supplied)

She is now a manager at the dairy and said that the challenges and opportunity to learn every day, and the support she received from others in the industry, meant it looked like the Clare Valley had become her home.

“There is something about getting up in the morning, doing your day’s work, then popping into the shop and seeing that milk on the shelf and knowing that you have been part of that,” she said.

Working with cows has also proved popular with Ms Moore.

“[It’s] their personality. I didn’t realise how much personality certain cows have. I think it’s fantastic,” she said.

Overcoming staff shortages

The dairy industry has faced many challenges over the years, including staff shortages.

James Mann, who owns Donovan’s Dairying at Wye in SA’s South East and is the chair of Dairy Australia, said that during COVID he spoke with farmers about how they were faring with the loss of backpackers and migrants.

“It’s still an issue, but it isn’t the absolute number one issue that it was perhaps 24 months ago,” he said.

Dairy farmer James Mann of Donovan’s Dairying came to Australia from the UK in the 1980s.(Supplied)

He partially attributes this to the return of backpacker and migrant labour.

“[But] locals are obviously really important across the industry as well. They’re the backbone of the industry,” he said.

A recent survey conducted by Dairy Australia reported that almost a third of farms struggled to find labour in the past 12 months.

This has prompted the Dairy Jobs Matter campaign to attract more workers. In the past year they have had 40,000 people express interest in a job in dairy.

Mr Mann said farmers also needed to think about how they promote the industry.

“Being positive about how they see their own farms, their own businesses, and their own industry within their social networks and their community networks [will] ease the pressure on the supply of people,” he said.

For the love of dairy

Like Sarah Moore, Mr Mann also originated from the UK.

“I was near enough a backpacker 40 years ago. I was born in the UK on a family farm and then migrated in the mid-’80s and been here ever since,” he said.

“What attracted me [was that] you’re working outside, you’re working with animals, you get a variety of jobs. It’s a pretty rewarding career.” 

Back at Maneela Dairy in the Clare Valley, Ms Moore believes that providing both accommodation and consistent work was key in the dairy’s management obtaining and retaining staff.

It was also the friendly team culture.

“We have a good laugh here. We treat the staff like a team and we all get along really well. It’s a good environment,” she said.

“For us, we’re quite fortunate, we have people regularly returning … and just word of mouth is really good. Work finds itself through people, which is a good feeling as well, for them to recommend us to their friends.”

Sarah Moore says attracting workers through word of mouth is highly successful.(ABC Rural: Kate Higgins)

She said farm life was where it is at.

“I can’t see myself leaving anytime soon. I’m enjoying it. The challenge of everyday, the more that I’m learning, the more that I’m growing, I can see myself liking it more every day,” she said.

But will Ms Moore follow in the footsteps of Mr Mann, perhaps owning a dairy herself one day?

“That’s big talk. I don’t know what the wife will say about that,” she said.

Key stories of the day for Australian primary producers, delivered each weekday afternoon.