Over the past decade, the dairy levy has been invested in a wide range of programmes, enabling DairyNZ and its partners to deliver the research, tools and advice farmers need to manage new challenges. Inside Dairy spoke to four farmers who have experienced the benefits of their levy investment directly.
Hauraki Plains dairy farm owner
Conall Buchanan can speak from a well-informed position about the benefits he’s received from DairyNZ’s commitment to more sustainable dairying.
Conall was the land user representative in the stakeholder group charged with formulating the ‘Sea Change’ 30-year spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf.
He credits the support of DairyNZ’s freshwater scientists for helping ensure all stakeholders understood the true issues facing the Hauraki Gulf, and dairy’s contribution to them.
“With DairyNZ’s research and data, we identified that sediment was the main issue facing the Gulf – quite different to what some people thought the problems were,” says Conall.
DairyNZ also worked with the regional council to ensure an independent review by NIWA of all research conducted on the Gulf.
“The result was an unquestionable outline of what we actually know.”
DairyNZ also identified knowledge gaps and has initiated work to get that research underway.
Conall was impressed with the concept of co-funding with other parties.
“It means that we as farmers pay our portion, not everyone else’s, and that when other parties have contributed to the cost, they’re more likely to pay attention to the results.”
His involvement in the planning process has reinforced his belief that “if you aren’t sitting at the table, there’s a good chance you’ll end up on the menu”.
He says the ability to source well-researched data has protected the dairy sector from being at the mercy of other stakeholders’ agendas. It’s also encouraged open, honest dialogue with those stakeholders when dealing with environmental issues.
Conall is also a member of the Dairy Environment Leaders programme initiated by DairyNZ, and appreciates the four-step approach developed to deal with sustainability and environment issues.
It’s a simple approach that reflects the pragmatism of the farmers involved, and their desire to share the industry’s efforts, he says.
“It involves identifying the problem, working out a solution, doing the work and then telling people what it is you’ve done.”
Conall credits DairyNZ’s freshwater experts as the industry’s unsung heroes, and says he’s been deeply impressed by their knowledge and unbiased approach.
Conall and his wife Rowena own two farms, milking 750 cows on Awaiti Road, near Paeroa, and they 50:50 sharemilk 330 cows on another farm 10 minutes away.
He feels well served by DairyNZ’s online resources for young dairy farmers moving up in the industry, and tools for understanding and building farm profitability.
“There’s a good team of people there, and we just need DairyNZ's leadership to stay focused on what is most important.”
DairyNZ scholarship recipient
North Waikato farm manager Rachael Foy has enjoyed a couple of significant wins since she opted for a dairying career. The first of those wins was earning a DairyNZ scholarship in 2012/13.
Rachael started working on a dairy farm after leaving school, but soon decided to take the plunge into a tertiary degree and gain formal training.
“Lincoln was the obvious place for me to head and after my first year of study I learned about the DairyNZ scholarships on offer.”
First introduced in 2001, the scholarships are available to undergraduate and masters students pursuing tertiary study at Lincoln, Massey or Waikato Universities. The $300,000 pool of available funds enables students to have $6325 worth of fees covered annually, a significant portion of any student’s study costs.
“For me, it covered seven out of eight papers, which was great and obviously made a big difference in terms of the cost of the degree,” says Rachael, who graduated with a Bachelor of Agriculture from Lincoln University in 2013.
Gaining formal training has set Rachael up for a strong career. She's now managing a 178ha (effective), 460-cow farm in Waerenga and her talent has quickly been recognised. In her second big win, Rachael was earlier this year named the Auckland-Hauraki Dairy Manager of the Year.
“To win the award was a big privilege that helped open up opportunities and build my confidence.”
Rachael says having the scholarship noted on her CV is a big asset and recognises more than just consistent academic achievement while studying.
“You also have to demonstrate some community engagement and commitments when you apply for the scholarship. For me, that was about coaching netball and being on a committee at Lincoln, and being chairperson for the North Waikato Young Farmers Club.”
She is also a calf judge for the A&P Show Association. Receiving a DairyNZ scholarship meant Rachael also became part of the wide network of DairyNZ scholars spread between the three universities. That’s given her the chance to meet plenty of likeminded primary sector graduates.
Rachael says the scholarship has been a valuable part of her career pathway, as she sees herself moving into contract milking in the future and building equity for livestock and land ownership.
Southern Dairy Hub chairman
When the Southern Dairy Hub (SDH) opened in July this year, it was a significant milestone for the region’s dairy farmers. It’s one SDH chairman Maurice Hardie says has only occurred thanks to significant input and collaboration between local farmers, businesses, and industry group members DairyNZ and AgResearch.
The new farm’s commissioning came after the Southland Demonstration Farm’s lease ran out the year before, but work had been going on for almost five years to ensure there would be an effective, viable and relevant demonstration farm in its absence.
Maurice attributes much to DairyNZ’s input in helping the farm become a reality.
“We sold the idea about a SDH farm project to DairyNZ and they gave us access to a significant amount of talent and resources. This enabled us to write a full in-depth business plan to help us raise funds for the venture.”
Those resources included an “almost full-time” team of fellow directors, including two from DairyNZ. Along with AgResearch, DairyNZ also invested $5 million into the SDH project.
But that involvement has extended back much further through the life of the original Southland Demonstration Farm, which over the years was the site of several projects involving DairyNZ.
Maurice cites the farm’s four-year Southern Wintering Systems project headed up by DairyNZ senior scientist Dawn Dalley. This looked at the pros and cons of different wintering systems in the region, studying six systems’ impacts on financials, staffing and the environment.
Projects like this give Maurice satisfaction that southern dairy farmers are seeing their levy payment returned in work that can be applied on-farm. And it helps knowing the results have been generated from full-scale local commercial experience, rather than scaled-down farmlet size trials.
“This work is evidence that DairyNZ is delivering resources we cannot deliver ourselves. I don’t think we always give enough credit to the resources that are under DairyNZ’s roof,” says Maurice, who farms 1070 cows with his partners on two properties in Central Southland.
Heading into the future with the Wallacetown SDH farm, Maurice also feels confident southern dairy farmers will be included in any discussions influencing the sector’s future in the region.
This is thanks in part to having the Otago and Southland regional councils involved in the hub’s research advisory committee, and because the committee is headed up by DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Dr Bruce Thorrold.
Kaitaia dairy farmer
Like many farmers in Northland, Kerry Cutler has experienced some tough seasons during the past 10 years.
Drought has sometimes turned to soaking rain within days, while his property’s undulating terrain makes it particularly challenging when managing feed levels and pasture quality.
That’s why Kerry, who farms in an equity partnership with his parents, jumped at the opportunity to learn more from other successful farmers in the region when DairyNZ initiated the Far North Partner Farmers (FNPF) programme three years ago.
The three-year project included two partner farms: one in the Far North near Kerry’s farm, and the other in the Lower North, near Kaiwaka. Full information was shared with the management committee, while production and performance information was shared at public field days and in regular newsletters.
“I knew there were good farmers there and felt I had more to learn about better pasture management and control among other things,” says Kerry.
One member of the management committee had designed a spreadsheet for recording plate meter readings. He shared this with Kerry, who began weekly plate meterings of his 185ha (effective) farm area.
“It’s a simple thing but making it a regular, recorded exercise has given me confidence to respond to any surpluses or deficits I can see coming. I feel more in control on a farm where it can Kaitaia dairy farmer be easy to have pasture go to seed before we can control it with the stock.”
Since he joined the management committee, Kerry has focused more strongly on financial performance.
“I’ve always been pretty tight on expenditure but by using DairyNZ's DairyBase I’ve been able to monitor my performance. In the past, I’ve compared myself to a flat farm with the same number of cows. I’ve learned that I can’t expect the same performance, but I can look at such a farm and think about what I can emulate from what they’re doing.”
The result has been that Kerry made a profit even at a $4.00/ kg MS payout. And his accountant pointed out Kerry had managed to shave another $100,000 of expenses from the 460- cow farm, while still managing to maintain a reasonable level of fertiliser input and good animal health.
After three years with the partner farm project, Kerry has lifted his herd numbers from 300 to 500, and production from 110,000kg MS to a targeted 140,000kg MS this year.
“I’ve also learned to practice what we preached to one of the partner farms: to employ staff and make it easier on myself, rather than risk falling over and taking the whole business with me.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy November 2017