Monday, April 22, 2024

A journey to the top

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The top share farmers come from the top of the country. Hugh Stringleman reports. Dan and Gina Duncan feel like they moved from the end of the Earth to Invercargill last May to attend the 2018 Dairy Industry Awards where they came away with the Share Farmers of the Year title.
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Farm Facts
Owners: Pouto Trust

Sharemilkers: Dan and Gina Duncan
Location: Poutu Peninsula, Northland
Farm Size: D1 180ha eff, D3 260ha eff
Cows: 1080 mixed breed
Production: 2017- 2018 310,000kg
Target: 2018-2019 320,000kg
Farm working expenses: $2kg MS

They made the journey starting with 55km going north up the Pouto Peninsula from their farm then across to Whangarei for the long flight south.

Not confident that they would win national honours they didn’t put a lot of forethought into an acceptance speech and were caught somewhat flat-footed.

“We thought it might be a bad omen to prepare a speech so we did end up having to speak off the cuff – we did okay,” Dan says.

“The occasion was wonderful and we made some great friendships with fellow regional finalists, sponsors and organisers that are invaluable,” Dan said.

That might have been the only time this super organised and highly motivated dairy farming couple who have been involved only six seasons were caught out.

Pouto Peninsula is the northern headland of the Kaipara Harbour, guarding the wind-tunnel, sand-barred exit to the Tasman Sea marked by an historic wooden lighthouse.

The peninsula is a very large area of land, devoted to dairying, beef, kumara growing and forestry, extending 65km down a no-exit road.

The soils are all sandy loams, mostly free-draining and receiving 1150mm of rainfall annually.

Its southern tip contains the Pouto Topu A Trust tribal land, for which Dan and Gina are 50:50 share milkers of 1080 cows on two dairy farms, D1 and D3.

Now in their third season of that contract the Duncans have given notice to the trust of moving on next May and are hunting for their next position, preferably returning to Waikato or Bay of Plenty.

They are looking for another large-herd 50:50 contract to keep stepping up the ladder towards farm ownership.

The Northland herds will remain at Pouto, in the same way Dan and Gina bought the cows off the sharemilkers who preceded them along with some top-ups bought locally.

At the top of the Duncan’s curriculum vitae is now Share Farmers of the Year and Northland Share Farmers in the New Zealand Dairy Awards, winning a total of eight regional and national merit awards along the way.

The regional wins carried $7000 worth of prizes and the national win nearly $50,000.

The judges said they can be summed up in three words – passionate, professional and committed.

Described as a friendly, outgoing couple with very high standards, the Duncans took on an exceptionally challenging farm in one of the most isolated parts of the country.

Both left careers as qualified rural valuers – they met at Massey – firstly to go dairy farming then to take the Pouto position, now with two preschool boys, Lachie, 3  and Brock, eight months.

“Dan thrives on the biggest challenges, hence his double major in rural valuation and management and in agriculture and 2018 was his third time entering in the dairy awards in only six years in the industry,” Gina says.

His first herd manager’s job near Matamata in 2012-13 gave rise to a Waikato dairy trainee award attempt and second placing.

Dan tail paints the heifers after they have been put forward for AI.Photo: Frances Oliver.

Southland judge Matt Richards said the comparison made it real in what was called an outstanding presentation of the Duncans’ clear and realistic but challenging goals.

A long-term plan with strategies to improve the Pouto Topu Trust dairy farms includes sustainability solutions, leaving a pathway for the trustees, their farm adviser Gareth Baynham of AgFirst Northland, and their successors as sharemilkers.

The Duncans put forward a Farms to Prosper plan the trust has been very receptive to. 

Capital spending was limited until the Duncans got on board but now the mindset has changed.

“It helped that we could show that the farms had the potential to increase production after sitting around the 250,000kg MS for long time,” Gina says.

“Since we have been here the trust has invested in a new house, cup removers, new implement/calf shed and new fencing and it intends to implement all the points that we put forward.”

Dan and Gina say their time in the limelight this year was hugely important to their lives and to their careers, opening opportunities for a new position in 2019-20 and a big step towards their own goals for equity and farm ownership.

“Having come to dairy farming as a second career, although Dan was born and brought up on a dairy farm, means that our pathway has to be quicker,” Gina says.

“We entered to critique our business (Weta Farms) as we wanted to make sure we knew what we had before making any big decisions.

“The competition highlighted the balance we were lacking between our financial and personal goals.

“With scale we get the ability to focus more time on management instead of day-to-day jobs, ensuring we get efficient production for both ourselves and the trust.”

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