Waikato dairy farmer Wayne Dickey came home to manage his family’s 90 hectare Manawaru dairy farm in 2010 after working as a builder for 18 years.
It wasn’t the easiest transition having been ‘out of the game’ for a while, but four years on, Wayne is now the third generation Dickey to farm the land.
Wayne said that while there is a lot to learn from family who have gone before him, it’s definitely not business as usual on the pretty farm nestled in the lush pastures beneath Mount Te Aroha.
The reality is that Wayne is tasked with transforming the business into a ‘farm of the future’ under a contract milking arrangement with semi-retired parents John and Ngaire. Wayne is a 10 per cent shareholder in Crosskeys, the business that owns the farm’s 280 cows.
He said the arrangement means his parents retain complete ownership of the land and infrastructure, while giving him an opportunity to work towards a 50/50 contract milking partnership, with the aim of 100 per cent ownership of the herd in around 10 years.
He said this year, his fourth season in charge, the farm is on track to achieve a 33 per cent increase in production, up from 90,000kgMS to 120,000kgMS this year.
Wayne said as well as grass, he feeds supplements all year round, growing approximately 170 tonnes of maize silage and under-sowing 150 tonnes of grass silage most years. He also buys in 150 tonnes of palm kernel.
Taking out the guess work
He said this year’s increase in production is on the back of what was, admittedly, a bad season for the farm last year.
For the past 10 months he has also been using FARMAX FarmTools – a decision support software program which is giving him the confidence to manage more of the farm on his own.
When Wayne first returned to the farm, his parents engaged mentor Martin Bennett – a successful South Waikato dairy farmer and farm consultant. Bennett has been working with Wayne closely for the past four years, assisting him with planning and monitoring goals for the business each year.
It was Bennett who introduced him to FARMAX recently to help fast-track Wayne’s progression to managing the farm’s financials, and not just the feed budget.
Wayne said by using FARMAX software his parents can have complete faith in his decision making and give him greater responsibility for the key decisions that are made about the farm.
“Simply put, FARMAX takes out the guess work – not just for me but for my shareholders as well. At the end of the day, the inputs we put into the cows have to have a higher return if we are going to make any profit, and FARMAX tells us all whether this is what is happening.
“ A couple of years ago I would have just fed the cows until I ran out of feed, but with FARMAX I can accurately monitor what I am feeding into the system and then what I am getting out at the other end. Am I spending $1 to make $2 or am I spending $2 and only making $1. If that’s happening then I am not heading in the right direction and I know that I need to change something.”
Checks and balances from your desktop
Wayne said it is FARMAX’s ability to run scenarios within its program that makes it such a valuable tool because he can test different decisions and see the outcome before he has to physically do anything on the farm.
He said the ability to do this means he is always ahead of the game by two to three months.
“I will test different scenarios at least once a week on aspects of the farm. For example, should I up the maize or up the palm kernel, and how does that change the body score condition of the cows in the program? FARMAX tells me which one I should increase and which will be the most cost effective.”
FARMAX also segments the monthly feed budget into three 10-day cycles, and Wayne plans his up to three months in advance.
He said the feed budget is great in the level of detail it allows him to record including how much maize and palm kernel he is feeding per cow. He can also see his profit margin two to three months ahead as well.
“I monitor and record my stock numbers, cow culls, pasture covers, grass silage that is taken from an area and all the financials – essentially I put in as much information as I can, particularly when it comes to the financials including how much it costs to cut grass silage, how much it costs per kilo of maize – every financial I can think of goes into FARMAX.”
Proving returns before investments are made
Before Wayne started working in FARMAX he wasn’t managing the farm’s financials, and it has been a three year journey working alongside his mentor and shareholders to get to where he is today.
He said FARMAX’s ability to provide reports that present information using graphics for those who don’t need a lot of numbers but do need a high level of assurance has been crucial in building confidence in his farm management capabilities.
“Rather than trying to convince shareholders we need to buy something, with FARMAX I can show the evidence of what the outcome will be if the investment is made.”
He said in this respect his parents have complete faith in FARMAX, and trust the information Wayne is giving them is precise.
“FARMAX has taken a lot of pressure off John and Ngaire because they are no longer concerned that they are not getting good information and advice – and that hasn’t always been the case. A few years ago they would have checked with my mentor as well to see whether or not it was the right thing to do.”
Wayne said he meets with his shareholders monthly and they’ve already seen returns on a number of the recommendations he has made.
He also uses FARMAX reports when working with his bank manager and he continues to share his files with his mentor and discuss anything complex over the phone when required.
Taking the farm into the future
Charged with transforming the farm’s performance, Wayne has invested in a number of new technologies for the farm.
Alongside FARMAX, a C-Dax pasture metre measures pasture cover and the milking platform is automated using LIC’s PROTRAK system.
Wayne enjoys learning about and using new technology if it proves its value to the business.
He said FARMAX can seem overwhelming when you first starting using it – but only because you don’t know the different areas and what each one does.
But he said once you are on your way it gets simpler and more interesting to use, particularly when you start seeing the outcomes working on farm as they’ve been forecast in the program.
“I’ve had a season now to learn the program, but I still don’t have everything in it that I want, but as each season passes I am building a powerful, historical record of the farm and will be able to start benchmarking and using that information in more ways.”
Wayne’s ultimate goal is that FARMAX will be the program that helps him run the farm as a highly profitable business.
“My end goal is that everyone around me has full confidence in my ability to run the farm and the decisions that are being made, because I will have full confidence in FARMAX telling me we’re doing the right things.
“I don’t want my parents to have to worry about the farm when they retire, and I want them to be able to retire with the total assurance that the management of the farm is in capable hands. FARMAX is one of the key tools that I will use to achieve that goal.”
Wayne’s top four FARMAX benefits:
- Independence and assurance: It gives my shareholders the confidence that I am making decisions based on evidence by using the most accurate information available to me, and doing what is best for the farm. It gives me credibility and takes away any worry for my parents about how their asset is being managed.
- Always looking ahead: With FARMAX I can test whether a decision is wrong or right for the farm before I make it, or if I am heading in the wrong direction in terms of achieving my production goals so that I can make changes and get back on track. At any given time I am monitoring the feed budget and farm financials two to three months ahead to keep my finger on the pulse.
- Use your feed resources more effectively: FARMAX keeps you on track when it comes to knowing what to feed and how much depending on your production goals. Whether it’s the type of supplement you should be using, and how much or whether you should be using supplements at all depending on the season and your farm’s pasture cover.
- Monitor and improve your bottomline: It helps you progress the farm financially to be where you want it to be. It tracks your profitability and tells you whether you are making or losing money. It then helps you evaluate the things you have to do and decisions you need to make to be more profitable.