Management

Farmers share business philosophies

By Sophie Baldwin

FIVE DIVERSE dairy farmers, with five different farming systems, formed a panel as part of day two of Murray Dairy’s Murray Muster, held in Kyabram during May.

The panel spoke to the group about their own businesses and management, their own opinions and where they see the future of the industry in 10 years time.

RACHELLE MOON

Rachelle Moon milks 120 cows on 105 ha with her husband Carl at Numurkah.

The couple run a small operation and want to keep it a family run enterprise with the couple supplying the bulk of the on-farm labour.

Despite continued challenges, they are heading into their fourth season and are constantly looking at ways to improve their business.

The couple is focusing on improving soil health to retain as much soil moisture as possible to grow more feed and is looking to establish long-term relationships with fodder suppliers.

When it comes to water management, Rachelle and Carl are looking at owning a third of their water requirements, leasing a third and purchasing a third on the temporary water market.

Rachelle said they have been fortunate the last rain allowed them to carry over water and she said the biggest question looming over the industry at the moment was next season’s allocation.

Rachelle said they are looking to the future a little differently and would like to diversify into agritourism (their farm has a lot of creek frontage) and are also looking at some sort of on-farm milk processing.

Remaining small and keeping the business a family operation is very much their main goal.

MARCUS LANG

Marcus Lang milks 2000 cows with his brother and parents across 485 ha and three farms at Tatura.

The brothers took over the running of the family operation in 2015 which fortunately includes access to other water assets including recycled sewage water and shallow ground water.

Marcus said challenges do arise from managing these types of assets and working on water ownership takes out some of the peaks and troughs and allows the business to keep the cost of production around the mid four dollar mark.

Marcus believes people need to work with the assets they have and farming in northern Victoria is not all doom and gloom, the challenge is to keep learning and developing new skills and management.

He said the millennium drought has changed the face of dairying, but people need to move past that now and make a choice to find a way forward and for his business, has included growing crops including wheat and vetch.

Marcus remains haunted by his decision to not buy temp water when it was $45/Ml because it was to “dear” but he said you have to take the emotion out of your decisions and if water prices are ever below the long-term price average, grab it.

Last season, the Lang family business plan changed week by week and contrary to what they thought, they ended up milking additional cows quite by accident, which in the end turned out to be a good thing.

Purchasing more land is an option they will be looking at in the future.

ANDREW TYLER

Andrew Tyler milks 850 cows on 485ha. He has been farming in the Goulburn Valley for 30 years and he believes it is still the best place to grow feed and make milk in the country.

He believes dairying has a firm future, it might just have fewer farmers across a bigger footprint.

His business owns 40 per cent of its water requirements and responding to water opportunities is going to be a key to a successful future — including knowing the water dollar value where you can and can’t make money.

This season he grew 100 ha of corn.

The business is focusing on doing the one percenters well which has included improving the nutrient balance of soils and spreading manure for fertiliser.

He is looking to improve the management of his cows including the dry herd, and is looking into the possibility of some sort of shade shed in the future for dry cow comfort.

Andrew said Australia was an expensive place to do business, so it was important to do it as well as possible.

ERWIN VAN den BERG

Erwin Van den Berg milks 1200 cows on 600 ha at Katamatite with his brother.

They used to run a seasonal operation but now calve every day of the year.

Erwin thinks a barn type system is the way of the future but uncertainty around water security in the Goulburn Valley is preventing him from investing in his current property. He is debating whether to sell up and move his operation to another area.

Erwin believes the whole dairy industry needs to be profitable to be successful and he remains seriously concerned about the number of good farmers exiting the industry.

He is not happy with any of the bodies representing the dairy industry and he believes Dairy Australia has lost its connection to grassroot farmers and its head office should be in a rural town like Kyabram, not Melbourne.

He said he hasn’t invested in any infrastructure on his own farm for many years but would spend $5 million on a robotic/barn system tomorrow if he knew there was a solid future.

He believes milk price now needs to be set at $7 /kg minimum and processors need to commit to a sustainable price and give suppliers honest answers.

He said the government has prioritised the environment and the GMID is now seriously broken.

SCOTT McKILLOP

Scott McKillop milks 380 cows on 200 ha in north-east Victoria. Irrigation may not be a problem he encounters but he very much runs a simple system where maximising rainfall and pasture growth and conservation, are keys to success.

Scott bases all his business decisions on profit, not production and two key points he follows are stocking rate and rainfall.

He is a founding member of the Mountain Milk Co-operative which commenced trading in July 2018 — to create security and ensure a sustainable long-term milk price not only for his own business, but other suppliers as well.

He is also passionate about dairy creating strong and vibrant rural communities and he doesn’t like the disparity in pricing by processors based on volume.

Scott is investing in technology including collars and automated spraying to reduce some of the menial labour tasks and make everyday management that little bit easier.

The McKillop farm has been in the family for 150 years and Scott is determined to hand it over to the next generation in a sustainable and strong position.