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From farm hand to lease farmer – How Dean Turner found a career in dairy

  • June 04, 2021
  • 3 min read

Hard work, perseverance and the support of a good farming family have provided the keys to success for Yannathan dairy farmer Dean Turner on his journey from farm hand to lease farmer.

His father warned him there was no career in dairy, but 19-year-old Dean pursued his dream and started his dairy career in 1998 as a farmhand on the Campbell’s family farm.

He started on the smallest farm, tending 150 cows and easing into a new career which ultimately grew into sharing time between all three family farms.

In 2004, the Campbells purchased another farm, expanding the business to a 400-cow operation, and Dean was ready to take the next step.

“I enjoyed managing staff and a larger herd – it probably drove me to start thinking about whether I wanted to become a share farmer,” says Dean.

Together with his wife Bek, he started to build equity by purchasing cows and leasing them back to the Campbells. In 2012 they sold the cows, creating the cash flow to buy machinery and generated start-up cash for a share arrangement.

“The first year was tough – the milk price was $4.70/kgMs, and a wet season meant we were buying in a lot of hay. It was strange because as a manager, you knew exactly what you were getting, but at the time, we didn’t know what we were going to get and what we were up against.”

The Turners didn’t just survive their initiation, they loved the life. After working hard to get through the first season, things started to improve, and the Turners were ready to take their next step.

Those plans morphed into a new arrangement when a neighbouring 400-cow farm came up for lease in 2017. While maintaining their existing share farming agreement, Dean worked with the Campbells and their son Evan to create an equity partnership on the new farm.

“That’s where things started to change for us, and we started to get herd equity. Ultimately, I wanted to be standalone on my lease farm, and the equity share created the wealth for us to do that.”

The share arrangement finished at the end of the 2020 season when Dean realised his standalone goal and took over a neighbouring 200-cow property lease.

Dean credits his success to the relationship he has enjoyed with the Campbell family.

“They have always been very supportive of what I was doing. I wanted to be a share farmer, and they knew our goal was to own a herd of cows. And we’ve achieved that.”

Dean said the support of the Fonterra Farm Source team was also integral to achieving his goals.

“Sometimes our Farm Source representatives are probably underestimated a little bit, but the knowledge they have of their fields is second to none.”

Four decades after being told to avoid the industry, Dean is content with his career path.

“Dairy has been really good to us, and we’re still enjoying it. Hopefully, I’ll keep enjoying it for a lot longer,” says Dean.