11 Mar 2015

Tactics for Tight Times

From New Zealand Society, 3:30 pm on 11 March 2015

Peter Foote and Chris Neill discussing tactics
Peter Foote and Chris Neill discussing tactics

“My belief is this is not a crisis… however, there are people who are going to really hurt because of what’s going on at the moment… those folk need our support.” 

– Chris Neill, Northland Regional Leader for DairyNZ

With Fonterra still forecasting its current payout at just $4.70 per kilogram of milk solids - close to half last season's payout - it's not surprising that pessimists currently outnumber optimists in the dairy industry. Nearly 80 percent of dairy farmers told a recent Federated Farmers survey that they expect their profitability to worsen.

However, in response to the volatile milk prices, DairyNZ has launched the campaign, Tactics for Tight Times, which involves farmers who have experienced and planned through low payouts and adverse events sharing their knowledge with others.

Peter Foote and fertiliser manager Russell PlankOne such farmer is Peter Foote, who along with his wife Trixie, milks 450 cows on their Northland property at Kokopu, about 20 kilometres east of Whangarei. Having been through several lean years in the 1980s and 90s, Peter says keeping a cool head and applying what the couple learned during those times is key to helping them get through a season with a lower milk price. And the couple are more than happy to share their knowledge about how to build a resilient business with others in his district, joining 30 other farms being used as case studies across the country. "We know our business inside out… everyday we're faced with problems, good or bad, and they don't actually faze me anymore because age will tell me all you have to do is sit down, pick out the things you know about a particular problem, work your way through it and that will give you the answer."

Image: Peter Foote and fertiliser manager Russell Plank

Nearly 70 dairy farmers and industry members gathered at the Foote's farm recently to discuss issues such as cow condition, when to dry cows off, how much fertiliser to use and how to reduce unnecessary debt. While Peter says he has no silver bullet, his key piece of advice is to get production costs down to ensure the biggest impact on profitability.

“I keep coming back to the fact, if you can pull costs out that you don’t need, the bastards should never have been in there to start with!”

Northland Regional Leader for DairyNZ Chris Neill, helped facilitate the seminar, and has his own plea for farmers facing tough conditions: communicate. "Talk to your partner, if you're in business with them, make sure that communication is happening… the person who is sitting in the house thinking 'crap, these numbers don't work and they won't listen to me'… it's not a nice place to be."

DairyNZ will continue to monitor the Footes' progress this year, giving local farmers fortnightly updates. Farmers are also being encouraged to keep up-to-date with other seminars taking place across March.

Left: The Foote’s seminar was attended by farmers both young and old! Right: Some of the 70 dairy farmers and industry representatives who came to hear Peter Foote impart some of his farming wisdom.

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