Business Rural South Autumn 2016

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ON FARM » Robin Hornblow/ Steve & Maylene Fenwick

Business Rural

Career pathways an attraction Kim Newth All the advantages of scale and experience made Central Canterbury’s Camden Group an attractive career choice for Lincoln University agricultural graduate Robin Hornblow. The 28-year-old cut his teeth on one of the group’s farms, Willsden. After finishing his agricultural diploma at Lincoln, he worked at Willsden Farm for 15 months from November 2007 before studying for a Diploma in Farm Management. “I really enjoyed the experience of working for Camden Group and liked their innovative approach,” he says. “So, throughout university I kept in touch, did some casual work for them around summer milking and irrigation and the odd job in winter with drying off.” After travelling and working extensively through Australia and Europe in 2010 and 2011, Robin returned to work on his parents’ sheep-and-beef farm in Hawke’s Bay. Six months later, an opportunity came up for him as second-in-charge on Prairie Farm, one of Camden Group’s three irrigated dairy units in Central Canterbury. He has made the most of that opportunity,

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I’m happy with how it’s going here – so far, so good. having been promoted to farm manager in 2013. Robin says there has been plenty of scope for him to develop. As well as being promoted to farm manager, he has also been able to draw on the expertise of other farm managers within the group. “We are always in contact with one another and having impromptu meetings, along with formal meetings with farm advisers and the whole management team.” Prairie Farm, on the north bank of the Rakaia, has an effective dairy platform of 274 hectares and shares a 250ha run-off with his old stamping ground, Willsden Farm, and the group’s Chiswick Farm. “Next season we will winter 1000 cows from this farm.” Last winter was “pretty rough” on pasture growth with heavy frosts and snow virtually bringing growth to a halt. Spring got off to a bad start with the farm having to bring in supplementary feed. “Fortunately, it is looking much better now. That January rain really helped.” With low farm-gate milk prices, the group as a whole is keeping a close eye on costs. Robin says staying on top of maintenance is key to avoid surprises. To help manage shed costs, the farm has moved to milking three times over two days, rather than milking twice a day. “It reduces shed running costs and puts more condition on the cows. From what I have seen, production has not been affected. There are lots of benefits to it.” Production is holding steady at 1.6 kilograms of milksolids per cow per day. While the poor start to the season saw the farm fall behind budget, it is catching up and is on track for budgeted production of 440,000kg of milksolids. Robin has four full-time staff and a part-time calf rearer and relief milker. His partner, Kirstie, works off farm at the local Synlait milk factory. He envisages staying with the group and potentially taking on a higher management role, or looking towards share milking. “I’m happy with how it’s going here – so far, so good.”


Robin Hornblow with a tame cow (above) and doing a night check during calving (right). The Fonterra tanker calls (below).

In tough times ‘you do Karen Phelps Farmers have had a lot of good years, which is one reason North Otago farmers Steve and Maylene Fenwick believe many may be finding the new reality harder to deal with. “Farmers have had it good for a long time,” says Steve. “This is a big wake-up call as now farmers have to realise it’s OK to get back in the shed and do a few milkings to cut labour costs, not have the fancy car and overseas holidays. You do what you have to do to survive.” Both Steve and Maylene grew up on dairy farms in the Waikato. At 19 Steve had his first 50:50 sharemilking position, milking 140 cows. In little more than a decade, the couple had stepped up to a 900-cow conversion at Te Kuiti where they built up cow numbers to 1500 over the next five years. All 1500 cows were milked through a 44-a-side herringbone shed. Their move into farm ownership came in 2001 when they bought 208 hectares of rolling hill country at Duntroon and started milking 570 cows. With land acquisitions, their Grandview Dairies

company farms 438 hectares. They are also in a 50:50 equity partnership with their neighbours, milking 700 cows on a separate 240ha property, Avonlea. Each farm has a 60-bail rotary shed. Their business has weathered the 1987 stockmarket crash when they were 50:50 sharemilkers and paying the bank back at interest rates of 22 per cent. “I milked and did whatever I could to supplement the farm income to make things work,” says Steve. It was hard, but if that’s what you’ve got to do to stay afloat, that’s what you do.” He sees this downturn no differently. He is back in the shed to fill in where he can. His children are also working hard. Sarah, 24, and her husband, Tyrone (who previously managed Grandview Dairies) have taken on a lower-order sharemilking position together. They are just completing their second season as well as bringing up their first child, Leah. Steve acknowledges Tyrone’s skills in the shed: “He’ll get more milk out of a cow than I ever will. He’s a hard worker with good grass management skills. He’ll shift the cows three times a day if he has to, even if he has to go out at 10 at night. His

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