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Getting back in the game and coming home to the farm

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 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 which is giving him the confidence to manage more of the farm on his own.

It was Martin Bennett - a successful South Waikato dairy farmer and farm consultant - 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."

Checks and balances from your desktop

Wayne said it is FARMAX’s ability to run scenarios 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.

“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."

- Wayne Dickey, Crosskeys 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.

Proving returns before investments are made

Before Wayne started using 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.

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,” Wayne explains.

“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.

Wayne's top four FARMAX benefits:

  1. 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.

  2. Always looking ahead: 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Monitor and improve your bottom line: It helps you progress the farm financially to be where you want it to be. It tracks your profitability, tells you whether you are making or losing money and helps you evaluate the things you have to do and decisions you need to make to be more profitable.