Leading the way

by Sarah Collier, GippsDairy

Shelley Walker recently won the Female Agribusiness Leader of the Year award in this year’s Food and Fibre Awards. Shelley co-owns South Gippsland Dairy with her husband Neil and business partners Campbell and Krista.

The family owned and run business has been operating since 2016, processing colostrum. They are the only ones in Australia currently producing Australian grown colostrum. “We’re the only ones in the world who control the whole process of our product. We collect it, pasteurise it, pack it and we can control every process of that. That’s pretty unique as well,” Shelley said.

Shelley grew up on a dairy farm in Jeetho and went to Loch primary school. She never planned on becoming a dairy farmer herself, but always liked helping out around the farm. “I used to milk the cows, feed the calves and loved being outdoors,” she said.

Her husband Neil grew up on the farm they later purchased. Shelley and Neil were born on the same day, in the same hospital and met in secondary college. They have been married for almost twenty-five years.

Their business partner, Campbell, is a dairy process engineer, bringing the missing piece of the puzzle with him when he joined them in 2016.
Last year the team won the Excellence in Entrepreneurship award at the Food Fibre awards. They have also received Dairy Industry Association of Australia (DIAA) gold awards and last year won “The Most Innovative Product” award with the DIAA.

The road to success was paved with a lot of hard work and determination. They did three years of research and development and then had to get the right permits from Dairy Food Safety of Victoria, TGA, APVMA and others. “There was lots of red tape to get through, because we were the only ones in Australia doing it,” Shelley said.

The team’s motto is quality above all else. They currently produce 100-140kg of powder at a time, over a couple of days. “It’s a low volume, high value venture,” Shelley said. “We pasteurise the colostrum, and then it gets freeze dried in Knoxfield, then milled in Dandenong.”

Their process ensures that the colostrum stays as fresh as possible. They freeze it on farm and then process it in a factory. “We’re up to ten farms now and hoping to add another five this season,” Shelley said.

Originally, they processed the colostrum for human consumption only, but have since branched out into different markets. “Lots of different doors are starting to open up as we get our name and brand out there,” she said.

Shelley showed that the dairy industry has a lot to offer if you’re willing to learn and take a chance. “There are lots of different avenues you can go if you have a dairy farm,” Shelley said. “Don’t be afraid. Go out there and have a go at it.”

But the most important thing Shelley’s attributes her success to is to believe in yourself. “Be brave and back yourself and have confidence in your idea.”

Shelley and South Gippsland Dairy have big plans for this year. They’re focusing on getting into some more Asian markets, as they’re currently only exporting into Vietnam. “We’re looking forward to growing our company,” she said.

They’ve also recently been granted an export marketing development grant from the Australian Government. “We have to be careful we don’t over commit, but it’s a good time to be in dairy right now,” Shelley said.

If you’re in the South Gippsland area and are interested in becoming a supplier for South Gippsland Dairy, contact Shelley on shelley@sgdairy.com

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