Update from the farm gate: a NZ farmer’s perspective

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Update from the farm gate: a NZ farmer’s perspective
By Matthew Zonderop

Matthew ZonderopMatamata farmer, Matthew Zonderop, shares some of the recent challenges faced on his dairy farm


The Perfect Storm

The season started off slow with 8:30 a.m. starts. But within two weeks of calving I was up to 90 hours a week with 9:00p.m. calving cow checks, and back to 3:30a.m. alarms. Luckily the weather was playing ball and the rains occurred during what downtime we had, the breakdowns were at a minimal and our part-timer was on board and doing a great job.

The GDT (Global Dairy Trade price) results were looking positive and the cows were milking well. The plan was falling into place… and then it hit! The Perfect Storm. A lift in payout and then the breakdowns started. And these aren't the planned maintenance kind. These were the kind of breakdowns that make you weep. The kind that actually makes you look at the book value of your asset, call the accountant and take snapshots/cash flow reports in Figured and run the numbers!

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No weekend is ever the same. One week a tire splits open on the tractor, the other, some cows got a bit excited with recent rain and bent a gate.

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The GDT results started rising and life got somewhat easier, until… The Perfect Storm hit us once again! The grass (98% of our cows’ diet) went into a reproductive state, milk volumes were in free fall and panic set in. Meanwhile, the GDT continued to rise. It made the pain somewhat easier to bear. The breakdowns were repaired and assets were on the upgrade plan.

Then it was more snapshots and cash flow reports, dealing with impending asset purchases and the tax/GST increases. Now we're into summer and it's hot, dry and a whole lot of dust, with no rain on the horizon and the GDT keeps rising…

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Despite the hot and dry weather we’re experiencing, our summer plans never seem to hit the mark as every season is different, or there is a new anomaly thrown in. Humidity was this year's: insects were eating our crops and needed to be sprayed, and grass growth rates were through the roof but contractors were flat out trying to keep us all happy. The spray contractors were doing 70 hours a week! Not to mention the ag contractors doing silage harvest maize planting hitting the same workloads. Our cows couldn't eat it and we can't afford to waste it so we preserve it.

I’m still doing around 90 hours and haven't had a day off. Mating is near the end and has gone as well as expected. So maybe a sleep-in is on the cards, along with a day off?

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The pressure of performing this season has never been so high. Per cow performance has to lift with early in-calf rates to capture the high prices early in the season (which help offset the costs in the high-cost months of September - November). Our machinery needs to be running without unexpected maintenance issues - although by using Figured we are agile enough to move fast on the increases. And yes, there will be a drop so we can adjust accordingly.

So, with the pressures of farm life, it's important to me and my staff we all have proper rest and downtime. We have adjusted our milkings to a more flexible routine, not quite once a day but a combo. We’re maintaining per cow production (somewhat in the dry) and their welfare. Their welfare and that of the farm come before mine. To switch off is almost impossible for any farmer as there is always so much to get done, to repair or prepare for. And on your weekend off the phone is guaranteed to go. No matter how much we prepare we cannot account for everything.

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So what do I do to destress? I listen to music, go fishing (a lot), and take day trips outside the district, visiting non-farming friends. And of course, I get a holiday during the downtime! And finally, I keep my list of 'would do’s’ at the forefront of my mind: attend the PBR Championships in Las Vegas and dine at a Michelin Star Restaurant. With all that in mind, I'd like to leave you with this quote...

“Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.”


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