Saturday, December 9, 2023

They’re not afraid of change

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A Waikato farming couple who are taking a forward-thinking approach to their farming business are reaping the rewards of doing things a bit differently. Jenny Ling reports.
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A genuine love of the land, forward-thinking farming practices and a willingness to learn and develop have helped Richard and Nadine McCullough make their Waikato dairy farm an award-winning success.

The couple milk 650 mainly Friesian cows on their 383ha property at Karapiro, 10km south of Cambridge, in partnership with Richard’s parents Bruce and Wyn McCullough.

The McCullough Farm Partnership has grown in leaps and bounds since they bought the property during one of the toughest times in New Zealand’s economic history.

Richard and Nadine were young farmers with big dreams but buying at the end of 2008 during the global financial crisis really tested their mettle.

Coming from an all grass, seasonal farm straight into a split-calving operation triple the size of what they were used to was no easy feat.

“It was a scary time to buy,” Nadine says.

“We had the highest prices and the biggest crash. They were tough times but we’re still here, still farming. We made it through.”

They now supply Open Country Dairy, NZ’s second largest dairy manufacturer, specialising in quality milk supply that is processed into milk powders, proteins, fats and cheeses for global consumers.

Richard, 46, says he and Nadine, 42, are proud of how far they’ve come in the last 11 years.

“We’re in a situation now where we’re paying off quite a bit of principal each year and making a good return on the farm,” he says.

“We’re also very happy with Open Country. They’ve always been good to us and we’ve always got a fair milk price.”

Though he comes from a dairying background, Richard was not initially convinced about following in his parents’ footsteps into a dairy farming career.

His parents are now retired and his grandfather on his dad’s side, along with two uncles, were dairy farmers in Waikato and Southland.

“When I left school, I didn’t want to be a farmer, I wasn’t sure it was for me,” Richard says.

“So I went to Waikato University and started a degree in economics but after two years knew I didn’t want to work in an office so I came back to the farm and worked for mum and dad for a year. Then I went to Massey University and did a diploma of agriculture.”

He then spent three and a half years working on farms in Canada and Denmark, learning different farming methods and soaking up new information.

Nadine was living in Hamilton teaching tourism and marketing at Waikato Institute of Technology, also known as Wintec, when she met Richard on a blind date set up through friends in 2008.

Though not directly from a farming background Nadine had lived and worked on dairy farms and had a good understanding of it.

While she was doing management studies at Waikato University she was able to milk cows on weekends, which she loved.

When Richard and Nadine met they quickly found they had a topic in common.

“It was quite funny really, Richard’s friend and my friend are brother and sister. It was them who set us up,” Nadine says.

The McCulloughs milk 650 Friesian cows, which produced 279,000kg MS last season. They target 300,000kg MS.


Owners: Richard and Nadine McCullough

Location: Karapiro, Waikato

Farm size: 383ha 

Cows: 650 mainly Friesian cows and 14 Scottish Highland cows and bulls

Production: 2018-19 279,000kg MS 

Target: 300,000kg MS

Operating Profit: 2017-18 $3708

Heading: McCullough Farm Partnership KPIs

Cows: 670

Effective area: 240.1ha

Milk: 377kg MS/cow, 1052kg MS/ha

Return on capital: 6.9% 

Operating profit margin: 44%

Operating profit: $3708/ha

Cost of production: $3.95/kg MS

Operating expenses: $4.48/kg MS

Pasture harvest:  11.6t DM/ha

Pasture % of feed: 69

Core cost/cow:  $556

Labour efficiency: 223 cows/FTE

Environ score* (out of 15): 11.5

HR score* (out of 15): 10.4

The 2019 awards used data from the 2017-18 season

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