Kirkstall couple Chloe and Rodney Brown are firmly on the path from farm leasing to ownership, working with Fonterra’s Farm Source Professional team to put a plan in place to reach their goal.
“A few years ago, we decided to lease the farm completely and go independent of Rodney's family. That was when we started using Profit Specialist Andrew Martin and Paddock Specialist Shane Hargreaves at Fonterra,” said Chloe.
“Shane helps Rodney primarily with the farm’s day-to-day operations including feed base, fertilizer and calving patterns. While Andrew's been a real driver to get the business and money side right so that we can now look at purchasing the farm.”
“I was born on a dairy farm and always liked it. When I finished school I did my apprenticeship on the home farm, then worked at another property for a few years milking around 700 cows,” said Rodney.
“That led to an opportunity to go out on my own, milking 135 cows on a small property before returning to my parent’s property as a share farmer.”
A late starter to country life, Chloe has also come to love the industry she now works in.
“I didn’t want to be on a farm when I was going to school, but I married a dairy farmer and my passion for the life has grown from there,” she said.
“I came on board as a part-time worker on Rodney’s family farm. That’s moved to full-time working as we’ve moved from share farming with his parents to fully operating the farm by ourselves.”
Andrew and Shane began their work with the Browns by doing a business analysis to get a view of the overall performance of the farm, from both a production and financial point of view.
“At the start of that process, we did a goal setting plan which was great because Rodney and Chloe were really clear on what they wanted to achieve. They had a list of 10 or 15 goals in mind,” said Andrew.
“It was obvious at the outset that one of the key goals was land purchase and farm ownership, which has formed the basis of my involvement with Rodney and Chloe over time.
“We are now in the process of doing the third DairyBase, which is an online tool provided by Dairy Australia which enables dairy farmers and their advisors to measure and compare farm business performance over time.
“We've got three years of data, whereby Rodney and Chloe can benchmark themselves against other farms in the south west. It gives us a lot of data to look at and base our decision making on.
“Chloe is really good with the books and keeps a good track of costs. Together, we work out the budget and when we are planning future investment or spend, we've got to see that it fits in the budget and work out how best to make the business run with what we've got,” Andrew said.
For Chloe, Andrew’s help has been a huge bonus to the couple’s ownership aspirations.
“His background in banking complements my love of the figures. Each month, we work through a monthly cash flow, which we then work into our budget so we can see where our money is going,” she said.
“Without Andrew's knowledge and experience, I don't know how we would be in a financial position to be where we are now looking at purchasing the farm.
“I'd either be at the accountant all the time or using an outsourced consultant which would cost more money that we don't have. Andrew is a really important part of our farming business,” said Chloe.
In addition to reviewing their objectives, the preliminary planning also helped Paddock Specialist Shane identify potential business risks.
Shane said these risks were based around feed base – the amount of feed growing on the farm and the amount of feed that was conserved, particularly in shorter seasons where not enough was kept for the dry months.
“We put a structure in place with clear goals around the amount of fodder needed to be grown.
“We identified growing one tonne of dry matter per hundred millimetres of rainfall, and set a target of 1.5 tonnes of dry matter per cow for product conservation.
“I’m pleased to say that Rodney and Chloe smashed it. I set a target of 800 bales for the 2020-21 season and they achieved 1,700.”
Shane also worked with Rodney on changing their fertilizer strategy to run a rotation that matched their grass curve and also focused on making better decisions around calving numbers and the best stocking rate for the farm.
That planning has helped the Browns achieve some of their best ever seasons, according to Rodney.
“Coming from where we were five years ago, we didn’t really have a lot of grass and we probably weren’t feeding our cows properly,” he said.
“Shane has helped us with our fertilizer and growing more grass. He has shown us how to graze properly and as a result, our milk solids are up and our cow condition is a lot better.
“We used to struggle getting our cows in calf, but this year has probably been the best we've ever had. We’re back into about an eight-to-nine-week calving pattern, where before we were out to 14 or 15 weeks.
“Having the help from Farm Source has benefited us a hell of a lot,” Rodney said.
Now, the Browns look to the future with renewed optimism.
Chloe said that within the next five years, the couple is hoping to have purchased the first part of the farm, with a long-term plan to buy the rest in the next 10 to 15 years.
Rodney’s advice to any supplier thinking of switching to Fonterra is to “take it with both hands”.
“If you're a little bit unsure about what to do or if you don't think you're doing it quite right, you always just get on the phone to them.
“They're happy to come out and show you or run you through different scenarios so you can get things right. They're always happy to help you out,” he said.