Friday, 31 August 2018 08:55

Hitting the books helps farmer taste success

Written by 
Frankie Stevens. Frankie Stevens.

Dairy farming is a hands-on industry, but Frankie Stevens discovered that understanding the theory and business practices that underpin a farm is the key to success, comments Primary ITO.

Stevens worked all her life on New Zealand dairy farms as a herd manager and contract milker, but says she got new insight while studying in 2011 for Primary ITO’s Certificate in Production Management and in 2016 for its Diploma in Agribusiness Management.

“It was like all the lights had come on. Getting all these results from the cows, getting it down on paper and seeing it all make sense was so enlightening. 

“I learned many useful things in the diploma course -- taxation, cashflows and budgets, and working out operating profit. I enjoyed the financial side of things. 

“And then there was HR. I’d had an HR toolkit since 2011 and it sat on my bookshelf. 

“Now I know it inside and out thanks to my diploma. Whenever we need to employ people now, I have a plan I actually use.” 

Stevens did not enjoy school and struggled with dyslexia. She was forced to take over milking her parents’ herd on the West Coast at age 15 when her father was injured in a motorbike crash. 

At age 18 she went to Telford Rural Polytech and completed a Certificate in Agriculture but her employers, fearing that more studies would interfere with her work, held her back.

Many years later she resumed her studies, discovering that her passion for dairy farming and keenness to learn sped her through her diploma course in just 18 months. 

“I did two modules at a time. When I hear other people say the diploma is a lot of work I laugh because I was doing it twice as fast but still contract milking 350 cows with the support of my partner and raising my son.”

Stevens says the diploma course covered topics like resource management and included working out how to convert a sheep and beef farm to dairy. Risk assessment taught her how to deal with payout volatility, climate change, biosecurity, etc. 

Understanding financial and accounting paperwork, tax requirements and different ownership structures has added to her expertise. 

“Many people go into contract milking or share milking with no idea about issues like taxation, accounting, dealing with banks or how to handle staff. 

“So we lose a lot of people from the industry because they burn out. They don’t have knowledge to support them in their journey and ensure they’re successful. 

“In self-employment you need to do budgets and know if you’re actually going to make any money. 

“You need to know what you’re doing so as to avoid silly mistakes like not putting enough aside to cover your tax bill. I understand those issues now.”

Stevens says being able to talk to farmers in a business sense is another advantage in job interviews. 

“I know all about how to increase profit and production, and how to decrease their expenses. Without having studied for the diploma I wouldn’t be able to have those conversations.”

Primary ITO’s courses are designed for adult-directed learning and offer a mix of hand-written notes, whiteboard sessions, class interaction and internet research.

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