Dustin Kemp can't bring to mind the name of a single sharefarmer around Lockington in northern Victoria, other than himself.
He's among the growing number who are concerned the well-trodden pathway to farm ownership that's served the dairy industry so well for decades is in danger of disappearing.
Mr Kemp didn't come from a farming background, he's not being bankrolled by family, and he had a very comfortable job as a municipal gardener.
"It's quite a juxtaposition because it was very regular - start at six, finish at three, you got RDOs, you got early weekends, so quite different to dairy farming really," he said of his council job.
Mr Kemp started off relief milking as a second job, found he enjoyed it and was even left to manage the entire farm for a few weeks while the owners went overseas.
The baptism of fire grew his confidence, and three years on, he took up the offer of a full-time job on the farm.
Four years later, with 50 heifers of his own, Mr Kemp was ready to progress his career and a friend sold him cows on friendly terms, which he credits as instrumental in getting his start.
The biggest hurdle was finding a matching landholder.
"I didn't have any options and I was prepared to take on anything," he said.
Networking paid off and, five years on, about 150 of the 190 cows Mr Kemp milks are his own.
It's the sort of success story the dairy industry loves, promoting itself as one of the "lucky country" industries where those who start with nothing can build a large asset base in a decade or two.
The next step would traditionally be for Mr Kemp to buy land.
"My ultimate ambition? It's up in the air a little lately because of COVID and the land price spike," he said.
He'd planned to buy an out block down the road.
"We would have been able to buy it pretty easily for $600,000 but it got subdivided and half of it sold for $800,000 last year," he said.
The 38-year-old's quandary is far from unique.
While Murray Dairy extension officer Russell Holman is quick to offer a couple of examples of sharefarmers working towards farm ownership in the district, he follows them up by talking about a shift in the dairy career path.
"There are not as many sharefarmers as there used to be, there tend to be more farm managers now than sharefarmers," he said.
Responding to competition for water, dairy farmers in northern Victoria have invested heavily in infrastructure that allows for full or partial herd housing.
That intensification has accelerated farm consolidation.
"They might have two or three different managers, one looking after animals, another the feed, and a different one looking after the infrastructure, so that traditional sharefarming model, particularly in northern Victoria, is not as available as it was 15 or 20 years ago and it's purely because of the scale of these enterprises," he said.
There were fewer farms to lease, too, as retiring farmers took advantage of record property prices.
Mr Holman said the impact of the 2016 milk crisis was also still having a "huge" impact.
"Even in southern NSW, those scars have burnt deep, it's still in the back of their minds, and that's affected a lot of younger people who saw what their parents went through," he said.
Facing a shrinking milk pool, milk processors had begun to step into the breach.
"Milk companies are actually buying farms and providing some equity for farmers to begin that way," he said.
"They might buy half the cows, they might buy the farm and a couple of companies put their own sharefarmers on because they wanted to secure milk supply."
To help offer a pathway, Dairy Australia has rolled out its Our Farm, Our Plan program, designed to help assess their current situation and plan their business futures.
The challenge is far from unique to northern Victoria and southern NSW.
In Gippsland, consultant Gerard Murphy does a lot of dairy recruitment and said sharefarming positions were becoming increasingly rare.
He said the high cost of dairy cattle was another barrier for young farmers wanting to make the leap from employee to sharefarmer.
The New Zealand model of a 15 per cent share in return for labour might help, Mr Murphy said, but it would likely be ruled as employment under Australia's tax rules.
ONFARM Consulting's Matt Harms warned lower-order sharefarming agreements could, however, lead to exploitation.
"Some people see it as a way of not paying proper entitlements, like holiday, sick pay and super, and if it's a 15pc share of a small pie, they are earning less than they would on a wage, which is unfair," Mr Harms said.
A small share with salary would be ideal for 33-year-old Carissa Davis, Loch, who now has the beginnings of her own herd.
It seemed her dream had come true, too, until an agreement fell through a fortnight before she was due to start at her new farm.
"It would have set me up properly and I could have gone further to end up owning my own farm," Ms Davis said.
She's back on the hunt for a sharefarming or lease agreement.
"I had a break from dairying for about a month and I just don't see myself doing anything else, it's in my blood, it's in my DNA," she said.
"If only I had an agreement genie that could grant me that wish."