Then farming in Lincoln on a 50:50 sharemilking job with 450 cows, the couple were new to the area and managing the heavy, water-logged soils.
“One of the first things I did was get Virginia Serra’s business card at a field day, she was our DairyNZ consulting officer then,” says James. “Through attending events we learned all about the area, without having to spend years there, and met a good network of people in a similar situation.”
James says that first year or two of sharemilking was a period of huge growth – from learning to manage a new, unfamiliar farm to the finance and business aspects.
“It’s daunting going out on your own – you get an accountant and bank manager and ask questions, but we also joined a BizGrow Progression Group in Ashburton which took us through tax, progression, succession plans… it captured all the things you have to address when sharemilking.”
In fact, the Bourkes went on to do DairyNZ's BizGrow a second time when they started their current sharemilking job in Culverden.
“The networks you get are helpful, particularly when moving to a new area. The people at the group and guest speakers are a good resource you can phone later, as a sounding board.”
Now three years into farming 520ha in a new 50:50 sharemilking position, James and Ceri milk their 800 cows and contract milk another 800 for farm owners, Peter and Ruth Mossman.
“We started with 1000 cows (500 each) and are now running two herds of 800 – with a new shed over the road. We winter on-farm and are as low input as possible, with some palm kernel.”
James and Ceri work closely together in the farm business, which now operates under a short-term seasonal plan, cashflow budgets and a long-term plan. “We put a plan in place with all the detail and come back to that plan as circumstances change – so we make the right decision and quickly.”
Their five-year goal is to be in an equity position equivalent to owning a 500 cow farm.
James has attended various events since he started as a farm assistant – attending discussion groups, environmental events and Pasture Plus.
“Pasture Plus was the first forum I went to with the same people, where we discussed ideas – and we continue to make sure we utilise it. We’re still 100 percent pasture-focused.”
Now James, Ceri and their four staff attend the local Culverden discussion group.
“It’s good, it’s the nuts and bolts of staff training. We take the boys to figure out what’s happening and why. We also encourage young people in the industry to attend as many Progression Groups as they can, such as Biz Start, to grow their knowledge and skillset, as well as networking with other likeminded people.”
Events in your area
Check out regional events – from discussion groups to project field days.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy February 2015