A Buddhist couple whose personal philosophy forbids them owning cows has taken out the Canterbury/North Otago Share Farmer of the Year title.
We don't start calving until late July. The winter downtime gives opportunity to fine-tune our targets and plans for the 2016-17 season.
If you're considering entering the Dairy Industry Awards later this year, it's also a perfect time to write some goals and identify key performance indicators you want hit.
A bit of planning before calving and mating will make it a lot easier to wow the judges early next year.
KPIs must be measurable; they help you monitor and steer your agribusiness, or the one you manage, in the right direction. Most importantly, they don't all have to be financial.
You might want to tighten your calving spread, improve your herd's six-week in-calf rate, slash your bulk somatic cell count, achieve more days in milk, lift production per hectare or attend more training seminars.
Improving your livestock, people and product KPIs often flows through to better financial KPIs, such as higher profit margins and lower farm working expenses per kilogram of milksolids.
We entered the Share Farmer of the Year category in the Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Industry Awards for the first time last season.
It can be daunting when you first sit down in October and ask yourself 'what am I going to talk to the judges about?' We'd set some goals, targets and KPIs earlier in the season, which gave us a starting point.
We printed bank statements to prove we'd exceeded our savings targets. We used photos taken over a series of months, plus data from regular farm walks to help explain how we managed pasture.
We had a feed wedge to show that our average pasture coverage (APC) was where we wanted it to be at the start of spring calving.
At the time of judging we were using free templates from DairyNZ to do our annual budgets and monthly cashflows, but we'd modified them so they were more relevant to contract milkers.
Each month we'd compile a variance report, comparing actual spending to the figures in our budget. We used that information to explain to the judges how we'd slashed our electricity bills.
If you're on a new farm it's also a good time to update your health and safety policy, emergency plan and hazards register. Templates detailing regular maintenance and safety checks on machinery and staff training are useful to show the awards judges.
The judges give entrants several pages of constructive feedback for each round of judging. We've used that free advice to tweak the way we run our business.
The awards are a great way to meet other like-minded, progressive dairy farmers. It costs nothing to enter and is an opportunity to make friends for life.
If you're keen to have a chat about the Dairy Industry Awards, contact us on Facebook or Twitter. Our Twitter handles are @BradMarkham81 and @m_herbert.
• Brad Markham and partner Matthew Herbert are the 2016 Auckland/Hauraki Share Farmers of the Year.