They are 50:50 sharemilkers at Te Aroha and part of the DairyNZ Tiller Talk programme formerly known as Agriseeds Grass into Gold.
They joined the programme in 2014. At the time Susan was looking at ways to increase their net profit per tonne of dry matter (DM) feed. Since then, they have been monitoring pasture covers and crop tonnages more closely.
“When the stakes are high, you have to be on the ball and committed to monitoring and implementing pasture policy,” she says.
“The challenge is to be onto it and in control because if you don’t things can get out of hand and you lose control. Being part of Tiller Talk gives us greater confidence in making decisions for our business, farm and the animals. Our focus on grass is the key to that.”
Mark says the benefits of the programme have been huge – he joined after tagging along to a field day.
“Tiller Talk is about monitoring growth and keeping an eye on whether paddocks are performing or not. When you run a pasture-based system, it is crucial to get it right.
“We don’t claim to always get it right but we learn as we go and implement that going forward.”
They run a pasture-based system and other than chicory, do not grow or feed any crops. A small amount of palm kernel extract is used to help in times of deficit such as at the beginning of the season.
Chicory makes up about 10 per cent of their milking platform and is part of their pasture renewal programme. They use an annual ryegrass before chicory is sown.
Getting into farming
Learning is a priority for Mark. Coming from a non-farming background he had to learn everything about dairy farming from scratch.
His family lived in rural Gisborne and at the age of 15 he took a holiday job shepherding on a nearby sheep and beef farm. “I really enjoyed it so didn’t bother going back to school.”
In 1982 the family shifted to the Waikato and his father went to work as a fitter at the now-decommissioned power station at Meremere south of Auckland.
“He suggested I might enjoy that line of work and would probably earn the same amount so I went to work with him.”
It was at Meremere he met Susan – a dairy farmer’s daughter from Matamata.
After school she worked at the New Zealand Electricity Department and studied towards a BSc in chemistry at Wellington and Hamilton.
She began work at Meremere as an industrial chemist trainee and worked her way up to chemical officer.
Their first foray into farming was a 5ha lifestyle block where they reared calves to sell.
When a family member bought a second farm and suggested to Mark he run it, they decided to give dairying a go.
A year later that farm was sold but by this time they were enjoying farming so decided to continue in dairying.
They shifted to Paeroa to manage a property then to Springdale as contract milkers, followed by two years for Landcorp at Ngatea, then lower-order sharemilking at Pukehina. They also started their family, two boys Ashley, 14, and Cody, 12.