Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Seeking new challenges

They are off across the Ditch, but not because they are chasing the dollars.

For Momona contract dairy farmers Peter and Helen Peevers, it’s all about seeking new challenges and securing a better life for their children.

The couple soon will leave their 121ha dairy property at Momona, near Dunedin airport, to manage a 400ha property two hours east of Melbourne with the ability to milk up to 750 cows.

“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge at first, but one that I’m looking forward to,” Peter says.

“We will start out with about 400 cows but the land is good and the infrastructure is there to allow me to increase the herd size over time up to about 750.

“The biggest challenges I know I will face will be adapting to the style of dairy farming in Australia, using flood irrigation from the nearby river which I’ve never worked with before, plus learning their seasons and its effects on pasture management – but I am a quick learner.

“Something new for me also is the fact that the cows there are fed grass and grain with a quarter of their diet as meal.”

In Melbourne, all the milk they produce will be for local consumption. It might go to Fonterra over there or any of the other processing buyers, depending on who offers the best price.

“Over there Fonterra is not the monopoly it is here and I can sell it to the highest bidder.”

Peter said the move to Australia was more about finding new challenges than about the money.

He is an outdoors man: “Over the years I tried a few jobs, from sheep and beef farming to being a small goods butcher, but I was fed up with being inside. Now I’m thinking more about the family and putting some money in the bank. When we saw the manager’s job offered on Fencepost, Helen and I jumped at the chance.”

Helen said they had set up a “job alert” on Fencepost and several other sites to be notified whenever a manager’s position came up.

“We looked at a few and some were really good.”

“I suppose it’s the price you pay for working for yourself but there has to be a point to it all.”

Interestingly, they found their new bosses were Kiwis, originally from Taieri, who moved over there about 13 years ago.

“Being able to work for a decent wage while doing something I love and also have time off to be with the family is more important to me now,” Peter says.

As they pack up and move away from family and friends, the Peevers are upbeat: “Our main focus has always been to develop our skills as dairy farmers and provide for our three children and this we see is a great opportunity for us.”

Peter says life as a contract dairy farmer has been a struggle at times.

Since taking over the contract four years ago he has been working 16 hours a day or more with no weekends off or holidays, watching the contract money flow out in increasingly bigger amounts covering expenses that always seemed to get higher each month despite the fluctuations in the pay-out prices.

“The costs are always going up but when the pay-out goes down the prices don’t match it.

“The technology is becoming too far advanced for the average farmer and to keep up I was having to buy specialist equipment that was both expensive to buy and service or repair and yet it had limited use and a short lifecycle.

“I suppose it’s the price you pay for working for yourself but there has to be a point to it all.”

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