Friday, December 8, 2023

Hard work and brain power

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A family that works as a tight-knit team are the Waikato’s top dairy business – Fritha Tagg reports. Farm facts Owners: Riddings Farm, Chris and Jude Stacey and Richard Stacey Location: Te Awamutu, Waikato Size:  240ha, 155ha milking platform, 40ha native bush, 45ha young stock block Cows: 430 crossbred Production: 2016-2017 174,000kg MS, 2017-18 173,000kg MS  Target:  2018-2019 185,000kg MS
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Hard work and the ability to think outside the box is part of farm life for Jude and Chris Stacey.

The couple and their two young children, Tom, 4, and Stella, 2, operate a dairy farm in rolling to steep country at Korakonui, 25km south east of Te Awamutu.

This year they were runners up in the Dairy Business of the Year competition. They also won Best Waikato Farm Performance and the award for the finalist with the lowest environmental impact.

Chris is passionate about the competition and how it has helped them.

“We have entered a couple of times to benchmark where we are. The best part of the competition is what you get back – the feedback from judges, the sharing of ideas with other like-minded farmers. 

“All finalists are open, professional and humble, no BS. It is just open and honest. It’s a great tool for a farmer to move forward. I recommend anyone enter. All financial data is put through Red Sky and analysed and all HR and farm functions are examined. 

“We entered this year to see how we were performing after modifying our cropping programme.” Chris said.

“We have tried a few systems with the aim of growing cheaper feed. We are able to produce all our own forages.”

Chris has a background in farming and was brought up on the small family dairy farm in nearby Cambridge. 

His parents, Richard and his mother Ann who died three years ago, decided they should move to a bigger, more challenging property after Chris got his degree. 

“We knew he was a farmer in the making,” Richard said.

“Because this farm is new to both of us we need to work together, which, I believe, we do well. Right from the start I have respected his opinion and been happy to let him take full responsibility for the day-to-day operation.

Stella, 2, like helping out. Pictured Stella washes Chris’ gumboots.

Where possible the crop paddocks stay in crop for two or three seasons. Following the first crop they direct drill either annual ryegrass or oats, which are quick to establish, high yielding and absorb excess nitrogen left in the soil after fodder beet. The crops are then harvested for silage.

The couple is looking at growing their business through sharemilking or leasing another property or alternate investment or farm-linked projects such as building a retreat near the native bush. They have tried rental property investment and decided it is not the right route for them and they are in the process of making decisions on what other investment might be a better match.

“Our place is beautiful. It would be a shame to not use it for something like weddings or a lodge near the bush area. I love cooking so catering for short-stay guests might work well but we are only in the early stages of trying to find something which will work for us,” Jude said.

“While the business is of high priority we try to keep focused on the bigger picture and live a balanced life”

“I like to keep it interesting,” Chris said,

“Trying different breeds may be the answer. That’s why we could be milking Speckled Park next year,” Jude said.

“Chris is an educated risk-taker, a calculated risk-taker,” she said.

He said the early days on the farm were not easy. 

“It felt like an uphill battle but once the dairy conversion was embedded and more animals purchased we could see that the property would work well as a dairy farm. 

“We have a great team,” Chris said.

“Awareness and open communication about each other’s goals and aspirations, knowing our strengths and weaknesses all play a part.”

Chris is in charge of overall strategic business direction and plan implementation. Richard is predominantly responsible for bill payments, accounting, GST and payroll matters and is also a great sounding board for Chris.

Jude is also involved in business decision-making, calf rearer, supply buyer and helps with general farm duties. She is kept very busy with Tom and Stella.

“We love being able to bring the kids up on a farm. Farming is hard work but offers a great lifestyle and awesome environment to share with the kids.”

Riddings Farm KPIs

Location: Waikato

Total cows effective area: 440 cows, 137.4ha

Milk prod per cow: 395kg MS/cow, 1264 MS/ha

Return on capital: 5.1%

Operating profit margin: 32.6%

Operating profit per ha: $2968

Cost of production per kg MS: $4.17

Operating expenses per kg MS: $4.86

Pasture harvest DM/ha: 10.7t

Pasture % of feed: 58%

Core per cow costs: $634

Labour efficiency cows/FTE: 133

Environ score out of 15: 11

HR score out of 15: 7.6

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