Thursday, 21 May 2020 12:45

Eyes open to different ways of farm ownership

Written by  Staff Reporters
Former Ravensdown colleagues Jane Smith, of Newhaven Farms, and Justin Geary of NZ Farm Management, during the Action Group’s farm visit. Former Ravensdown colleagues Jane Smith, of Newhaven Farms, and Justin Geary of NZ Farm Management, during the Action Group’s farm visit.

Farmer Jane Smith was “blown away” by the group dynamic and drive when she and husband Blair hosted the North Otago-based Growth and Development in Farming Action Group at Newhaven Farms in Oamaru.

While the group members are all working in diverse farming operations, they all have a common purpose – aspiring to farm business ownership. 

“It was inspiring to host a group of young people that are passionate about the industry and looking at ways, outside of the box, to get a step up into their own farming businesses,” Smith says. “They are very focused on what they are doing now and what it will take for them to get where they want to be.”

The Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) Action Network model supports small groups of seven to nine farm businesses to work together to explore ideas and share expert resources to help them to make positive changes on-farm. As a rule, kick-start funding of $4,000 per farm business is pooled to fund facilitation and expertise.

“This group is structured a little differently, with a different funding model, to meet its particular needs – which really demonstrates the flexibility of the Action Group programme,” says the group’s facilitator Hamish Campbell – a senior agri manager for Ravensdown in North Otago, who spends a lot of time on the road working with farmers.

“While it’s still fairly early days – we launched in June 2019 and have had three meetings to date – it’s clear members are getting value out of it,” he says. “One of the things we are now looking at is having mentors within the industry. Many people who have done well are only too happy to share support and advice. We are looking at doing an exercise to get them to identify and approach a potential mentor.”

Campbell says the idea of the group originated with some of his clients, who saw the value it could offer to young people they either employ or know in the sector. 

“One of my farmer clients is in an RMPP pilot group and floated the idea and asked if I would like to facilitate it,” he says. 

“I was keen and Ravensdown encourages us to be involved with industry meetings and discussion groups, so it worked well. The RMPP facilitator training I did was great for learning effective facilitation and in terms of personal development.”

Campbell says membership of the group comprises eight farming couples and it is a diverse group. 

“Some people are in sheep and beef and some in dairy. We have farm managers, sharemilkers, people who are going through succession and one couple have bought a dairy farm since the group started.”

Members of the Action Group learn about Jane and Blair Smith’s farming journey.

The group decided to start off with the two compulsory workshops for their first two meetings. Campbell says the group got a lot out of those and the focus is now very much on members driving the direction of learning and making decisions on content. 

Specialist rural accountant and advisor Fraser McKenzie led the financials workshop. 

“A lot came out of that around how to financially structure your business and different avenues to farm ownership,” Campbell explains. “There was a conversation about asset purchases and how to structure loans. Members were keen to take that further, so our next meeting is going to be with a financial advisor to look in more depth at structuring loans.” 

He says the group also wants to look more closely at governance and who they surround themselves with and how to get the best advice. 

“It got them thinking differently about how they can use an accountant – for advice and benchmarking and analysis of how the business is doing.”

Confidence growing

Group members Grant and Lucy Tremewan bought their 150 Ha dairy farm in Duntroon in December, having previously been sharemilking. 

“I think being part of the group gave us more confidence to buy the business,” says Grant. 

“Things we took out of the financial workshop included how you need to shop around different banks. We ended up going with our existing bank, but we looked at others.”

He says one thing they have taken from the group is to use expertise. 

“We paid KPMG to do our proposal for buying the property, rather than doing it ourselves. Having a bound professional report to show to banks, with all the analysis, was definitely an advantage.”

Grant Tremewan says members also appreciate the structure of the group. 

“The networking and communication are valuable too. We had moved into the area, so it’s been good to get to know other young farmers,” he adds. 

“I have 160 of my heifers on one of the other group member’s places at the moment. We share ideas and ask each other for advice. With such a mix of disciplines and roles, from sheep and beef managers to drystock or dairy farmers, there is always someone in the group who can help or provide ideas.” 

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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