Building a sustainable future

James McRae with his father Chris (right), wife Lauren and their children, Hannah and Roy. Photos: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN

Progressive Norco dairy farmer James McCrae has been farming on a multi-generational 182 hectare farm in Barrington, on the mid-north coast of NSW, and lives with his wife Lauren and three children Hannah, Roy and Neve.

Raelands farm has been a part of the family since the 1860s and James became a full-time fifth-generation farmer 10 years ago, working alongside his father as business partners.

James and his father have been working together to cultivate a more sustainable and innovative farm.

They are highly passionate about nurturing the land for a stronger agricultural future.

His father, Chris, has been in farming since 1981, and together they have shifted from one person managing the farm to two.

This was with the aim to become more progressive, sustainable and to support their two families.

Raelands Farm at Barrington, NSW. Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN

Over time, together they have made infrastructure upgrades and pasture improvements to increase efficiency and improve sustainability.

This has resulted in enhanced yield and quality while also reducing cost.

“The infrastructure upgrades have meant that the running of the farm is more efficient, allowing one of us to take time off or holidays, while the other runs the farm, which is important with a young family.

“We also entered into a succession planning process which is almost complete.

“We are fortunate Dad was willing to have the sometimes-uncomfortable conversations in the beginning, to form the plan and to make it financially viable for the next generation.

The succession planning meetings were facilitated by a farm business consultant.

Raelands Farm is solely a dairy farm supplying up to 2500 litres a day to Norco, Australia’s oldest and largest dairy cooperative.

They currently have a closed herd of 200 cattle, including 100 milking cows, additional replacement and sale heifers and drys.

With a degree in Agricultural Business Management from Charles Sturt, James has grown a strong interest in ESG and further innovating and driving sustainability on the farm, this has become evident through the investment in on-farm improvements.

Taking into account the farm’s business structure, Raelands Farm integrates triple bottom line management, a triangle which consists of environment, people and profit balancing the three aspects of the business.

James McRae (left) with his father Chris McRae. Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN

James and his father have installed a 24kw solar system, implement tree planting projects each year and have entered into a Biodiversity Stewardship Agreement with the Biodiversity Conservation Trust for 60ha of forest on farm.

They also use the Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator to work out how much emissions the farm is admitting.

There are many aspects Raelands Farm is aiming to address in that sphere, with a heavy emphasis on the environment, tree planting, community and environment at the forefront to show they care.

“We really want to leave our farm better than when we first started. Better for future generations,” James said.

Recently, Raelands Farm was awarded $70,000 from the Woolworths Dairy Innovation Fund to further invest in innovation and drive sustainability on the farm.

The grant has allowed the farm to implement practices such as planting hundreds of trees, heat detection collars for the herd and putting in a dairy solid trap.

The solids are used as fertiliser and to build soil organic matter on the farm.

“The grant has been really helpful to drive us forward. Without sustainability grants, it can be very hard to justify the costs involved with some of the larger ESG improvements,’’ James said.

“It has given us the opportunity to target the right areas and take direct sustainability action on our farm.”

James McRae is planting hundreds of trees on his farm. Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN

Another major focus for James on the farm is continuous improvement, which is evaluated with the triple bottom line management.

“For the past eight years we have been focusing on the eight wastes of lean management, with a focus on waste reduction to improve efficiency.

“Everything we do is with the aim to reduce waste, because with this reduction, a farm becomes more profitable and efficient,” he said.

They are also honing in on their dairy processes. Raelands farm creates standard operating procedures on efficient processes with step-by-step photos of the process.

This assists relief milkers in a quick refresher so they have a smooth, efficient and easy shift.

“We are constantly thinking of efficiency as we are only a small farm. When there is a process that can be followed it makes life so much easier,” James said.

The effluent solids trap on Raelands Farm. Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN
Planting trees is part of the family’s sustainability focus. Photo by DALLAS KILPONEN