Mark and Fiona Speak
Budgets help lead the way to increase profitability
Over the past seven years more than 1000 New Zealand dairy farmers have re-evaluated their goals and learned how to increase profits after attending Mark and Measure courses run by DairyNZ.
For Cambridge farmers Mark and Fiona Speake this meant learning how to budget on everything from employing labour to buying a new farm.
After Mark attended last year's Mark and Measure Business Performance course, he and Fiona used the skills he gained to determine that she should quit her job as a Hamilton lawyer and become a farmer, looking after their three children and taking over calving.
After doing the budget, they discovered that employing a worker, a nanny and adding other expenses, they were paying out more than Fiona was earning on her corporate salary. She left her job on September 1 and, almost immediately, their three children were happier and the couple has become a team.
Mark and Measure is a series of interactive seminars designed for dairy farmers and their partners to unlock the potential of their farm business, delivering the profits and lifestyle they desire and achieve their goals quicker.
Mark is a fifth generation Cambridge farmer who has been in dairying since he left school, including a two-year stint on a scholarship to Britain.The couple now farm 92ha, milking 265 Friesians and producing almost 1000kg MS/ha off peat land using an all-grass system with minimal inputs.
And although by last year things were going swimmingly for the couple, Mark says he was "getting bored with farming" because they weren't progressing as fast as they wanted.
"I knew we wanted to buy a farm but we didn't have the tools to do it. I was in a bit of a rut," he admits. "We had good EFS but were never a top producer. I needed more business skills. We were making gains but not being challenged."
Fiona says Mark wanted to grow the business but needed more business skills if this was to happen. "It's all about farming smarter. Twenty years ago it was a lifestyle but everything is so expensive now it has to be a business - we run a multi-million dollar business," Fiona says.
"Mark and Measure teaches you to do your sums, plan better and put more preparation into everything you do."
Mark says he came home from Mark and Measure 'stimulated' about the business. "I was buzzing for weeks afterwards - excited again about the business of farming."
Mark and Measure took him outside his comfort zone and made him look at different ways of doing things.
"We are looking to be better business people, more willing and able to tweak things to improve our profitability and margins. I like farming and want to be a complete farmer.
"We had always wanted to buy a farm but Mark and Measure gave us the business skills to achieve our goals."
Ciaran and Sarah Tully
Mark and Measure making a mark on kiwi farm businesses
Ngatea dairy farmers Ciaran and Sarah Tully attended last year's Mark and Measure seminar and claim that it could be the most important two days in your business life.
When Ciaran Tully first came to New Zealand, he soon realised it was where he could best achieve his aim of becoming a farm owner.
The Manchester-born farmer had an agriculture diploma and was working on a farm in the UK when a friend suggested if he really wanted to learn about dairying he should travel half-way around the world.
Ciaran and Sarah Tully - Farm info
System 3 (100-150 tonne of palm kernel) Location: Hauraki Plains Area: 176ha, 159ha effective Stock: 515 crossbreeds, 123/47BW and 145/73PW,
Staff: 2 operators plus 1 full time, 1 spring part time Target: 175,000kg MS Other: 1993 UK herd manager of the year
In 1994 Ciaran and his wife Sarah arrived back in New Zealand, finding a job as herd managers on a 159ha property near Ngatea. They have been on the same farm ever since, progressing to farm managers, then 50/50 sharemilkers. Now they milk 515 crossbreds, producing 1064kg MS/ha off an all-grass system with palm kernel as supplement.
Ciaran says because he was an immigrant without a background in Kiwi-style farming, he needed to learn quickly. So the couple became regulars at discussion groups and in 2005 they took Mark and Measure Business Performance course in the search for greater knowledge and motivation. They completed Mark and Measure Strategic Management in 2008.
Sarah says it could be the most important two days in your business life - even if it only means getting off the farm as a couple.
"Since we did the courses we have looked very closely at our options and drawn up a set of criteria to do this objectively, not emotionally," Ciaran says.
"We did Mark and Measure because we wanted to learn more and be more responsible for our farm business because we have gone from managing someone else's business to running our own. I saw that people who were doing well were continually educating themselves and surrounding themselves with motivated people."
While Sarah believes the courses also helped her goal setting, she says it would have been an advantage if she had taken the second course first, so her criteria would have been in place before the 'nuts and bolts' were introduced.
"In saying this," she says, "people should realise that if they don't get everything they want out of the first part, it's just a step to the next, which will probably inspire you."
Both say they were inspired by the speakers at Mark and Measure and the strategic planning tips have been invaluable.
"It gave us the ability to discern and plan for the future. We simply didn't know how to plan before doing the course. We knew we had to look into our future and Mark and Measure has given us the tools to do it, setting us up to know what we are looking for," Ciaran says.
This led the couple to spend a week in the South Island, talking to other farmers who have attended Mark and Measure, about opportunities for growth in the south.
"But we have decided we want to stay on the Hauraki Plains and look at our opportunities here." This may mean ownership or equity partnership - both of which fit into their criteria.
"What we have learned is not to compromise our criteria once we have set them. If you accept half your criteria, in the end you will only do half the job."
Ciaran says both he and Sarah have been refocused by Mark and Measure.
"We have followed through from Mark and Measure by working with DairyNZ Business Developer Carolyn Bushell and we go to any courses being run by DairyNZ because we want to improve our management skills."
They now hold regular round table meetings with their accountant and banker, so everyone knows the state of play.
An important sideline to the course has been that it provided the tools to help herd manager Gareth Turnbull secure a good position for next season.
David and Gail Hudson
Discovering personal and farm business potential
David and Gail Hudson say the decision to attend the Dairy NZ Mark and Measure course was something they should have done a long time ago.
In their fourth season of sharemilking at Galatea, they have been farming for 18 years, 12 years as sharemilkers. Parents to three teenage children, the couple say farming is often seen as a lifestyle but in fact farming is a business.
"A perceived lack of time can often be an excuse for not attending courses like this," says David. Making a last-minute decision in May last year to attend the course has helped them formalise their goals, mission and values statements.
"If people do these types of courses in their 20s, get the information and support early, it can help set them up for life, but no matter your age, every farmer should attend both the Mark and Measure courses offered by DairyNZ," says Gail.
"The course isn't about the operational management side of farming, but more to do with strategic planning management. It was basically sitting down, having the time together as a couple with the guidance of the Mark and Measure team to help guide us on the right path to put a plan on paper. Everyone needs to have clarity with a purpose, a picture of the future".
The course helped the couple to focus on their end goals and how they were going to achieve their dream. Since then they have re-written their mission statement three times, fine-tuning it to truly represent who they are, why they do what they do and what their values are.
"We knew what we wanted out of our business but the course has made us focus more on strategic planning as we continually analyse what we are doing, looking for better and more efficient ways of doing things," says Gail.
Meeting with like-minded people and having the opportunity to network was a big bonus from the course. "The different people you talk to, with different ideas and what they have achieved and how they have succeeded in their own business operations, keeps you inspired," says David.
Since the course in Taupo in June 2008, the couple have introduced a business coach, implemented changes and held their annual general meeting with their professional team.
They are still seeking out new opportunities to enhance their business portfolio, while working towards living out their mission statement with their children.
Matt and Louise Pepper
Course helps couple understand their business potential
DairyNZ's Mark and Measure programme was a reminder for Tirohanga farmers Matt and Louise Pepper of how far they can go in the dairy industry by better understanding the potential of their business.
"I already knew a lot of the principles that were discussed at both of the DairyNZ Mark and Measure Business Performance and Strategic Management courses, but sitting in a room with like-minded people and going over the principles and different strategies was invaluable to our business, personal lives and relationships," says Matt.
Matt was working in hotel management and Louise was working as a physiotherapist in Auckland when they received a phone call in 1997 suggesting they take on a contract milking job in the Waikato.
Matt was brought up on a farm near Tirau before moving to Auckland after completing school. They jumped at the idea of moving back to the Waikato where they could enjoy the rural lifestyle.
Today the couple are in partnership with Matt's brother Nick and his wife Michelle and all are focused on growing their business progressively.
Together they own over 1560 cows which are spread out over two 50/50 sharemilking jobs and a property they recently converted into a dairy farm.
Matt and Nick attended both of the Mark and Measure: Business Performance and Strategic Planning courses in 2006 with the intention of coming away with a formal strategic business plan, which they did.
As well as a business plan, Matt and Nick gained skills in strategic planning from the course.
"I found the strategic planning part of the course the most useful skill for our business. Actually having to put our goals down on paper was a very valuable exercise to complete together."
Matt says the course taught the brothers to not only set business goals but personal ones as well.
"During the course I made myself the personal goal of having every second weekend off the farm. We discovered by listening to the presenters that if Nick and I wanted to be sustainable in our business, we needed a positive work/life balance."
A big aim of the Mark and Measure: Business Performance course is to help farmers develop a better understanding of the financial aspects of their business.
"The course reiterated the importance of understanding our accounts. We came away looking for outside investment ideas. It opened up our eyes to branching into other forms of investments, ones we hadn't considered before attending the course," says Matt.
Three years after attending the course, Matt has continued to upskill by being involved in local DairyNZ discussion groups and DairyBase.
"The local 'Green to Gold' discussion group lead by our consulting officer, Denis Collins is a great way for Nick and I to get feedback from peers and improve our goals. By sharing our financials, targets and goals with local farmers we are getting new ideas and ways to improve our business. Mark and Measure initially gave us the understanding and confidence to open up and share our information."
Matt says that both Mark and Measure courses are perfect for those farmers progressing through any stage of their career.