But an ambition to learn has driven him to education, which has ultimately flowed onto a business which is now resilient and ready for any challenges.
Brett and wife Natasha are lower order sharemilkers for Natasha’s parents, Barry and Yvonne Richardson, near Whakatane. Milking 450 cows on the 140ha pasture-based farm, Brett worked his way from farm assistant to sharemilker.
“I took a year off teaching and was planning to go back, but realised I really enjoyed dairy farming,” says Brett. “I immediately got involved with formal training. It’s been excellent to back up practical experience with theory, as to why you’re doing things. I did Primary ITO’s levels three and four courses, then the diploma.
“Timing-wise, the diploma coincided well during the transition from manager to sharemilking. You need a different skillset and the diploma content aligned with where we were at.”
Brett started the Diploma of Agribusiness Management in 2013, gradually picking off each module – business and finance; taxation and investment; human resources (HR); ownership and risk. He is just starting resource management and planning. He will complete the diploma by doing the business report module (evaluating all aspects of an agribusiness and presenting a report).
Brett says their business is now more resilient to factors outside their control, such as payout.
“The practical cashflows and budgeting skills meant I was able to apply it immediately to our business. We have to be conservative with our budget, but also realistic so we do not miss out on opportunities.
“We have a budget based on a $5.50 payout. That is fairly conservative but we can live comfortably on that. We look at the bottomline, then anything we produce over that is a bonus.”
Brett and Natasha now have an accurate budget and cashflow set-up before each season starts, will stick to and monitor it, and use their farm management plan to identify expenses coming out.
Staff are also well-trained to ensure farm efficiency and productivity. A health and safety plan minimises accidents and Brett stresses the importance of keeping expenses down during a tough year.
The diploma also taught Brett specific business skills. Analysing every aspect of the business, then completing a business plan and a detailed three-year financial forecast, cemented Brett and Natasha’s goals and enabled detailed discussions with the bank.
“In practical ways, the diploma helped understand the tax system and the technical jargon bankers and accountants use, meaning we have more detailed discussions and make better decisions.”
This year Brett and Natasha won the Bay of Plenty Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title, a success he attributes to the diploma.
“We’ve set goals and action plans since starting the diploma and the sharemilker of the year was this year’s goal, which we worked hard at. The next goal is purchasing the other half of the stock we need, in the next five years,” says Brett.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy February 2015