Third generation farmers in final

By Graham Skellern

Richard and Amy Fowler, both third generation farmers, have plenty to live up to. But they are taking all the right steps to continue a successful family dairying operation near Paengaroa.

Early next month they will find out whether they are winners in the latest NZ Dairy Industry awards and sharing in more than $140,000 in cash and prizes.

They are among the 36 finalists who will be attending the awards dinner in Auckland on May 10. They qualified after being named the Bay of Plenty winners in the sharemilker/equity farmer of the year category.

The first two generations would have been pleased as punch. Richard's grandfather Bill Fowler started the dairy farm in Allport Rd in 1955 and then his parents John and Linda Fowler took over.

They still own the farmland; Richard and his wife Amy have a 50/50 sharemilking arrangement. Now into their fifth season of milking, Richard and Amy own the livestock and split the milk cheque equally with Richard's parents.

"I'd like to own the farm one day, maybe in 10 years time," said Richard, 31.

"My parents are happy with the set-up. They still have an input into the farm but are not tied to the day to day activity."

It was third time lucky for the couple, having already entered twice. Richard said: "We put more effort into the presentation this time. Starting with a PowerPoint presentation and then showing the judges the pasture and cows. The judges are not allowed to ask questions and you present for two hours.

"It's not really about how many cows you milk and having the best production. It's more about what you are doing on the farm and how you justify that. We tried hard to capture the essence of the business."

Richard, who has a Bachelor of Agriculture degree, milks 350 Friesian/Jersey cross cows and this season will hit 120,000 kilograms of milk solids, an increase on 102,000kgs last year. The latest production represents more than one tonne of milk solids per hectare.

The milking cows graze on 115 hectares of the family farm and another 60ha is used for calves. At present the Fowlers have 90 rising two-year-olds and 90 rising one-year-olds.

They also lease two blocks to run empty cows and they lease out their 5ha kiwifruit orchard which is growing the Turners & Growers Enza Gold variety.

The dairy farm has a 22-a-side herringbone milking shed, taking 16 rows of cows. The Fowlers have employed an assistant herd manager Baljinder Singh, who lives in Te Puke.

Richard and Baljinder milk together for five months during the peak of the season and after that Richard takes the morning session and Baljinder the afternoon.

"It leaves me time to do the business management including pasture monitoring, and budgeting," said Richard. He can also use his entrepreneurial flair.

Richard milks 120 cows during the winter months of May to July for 12-month production and each year he buys more than 100 empty cows, gets them in calf and sells them a year later for a premium.

"People tend to get rid of their surplus stock ... maybe they find it a hassle getting them in calf," said Richard. "We are the opposite. The empty cows are easy to run. They look after themselves and we tend to get most of them back in calf ."

The Fowlers can double their money by selling off pregnant cows.

After attending Te Puke High School, Richard left the family farm and studied at Lincoln University. There he met Amy who graduated with a Bachelor of Recreation Management majoring in sport. Her parents ran a sheep and beef farm at Waitotara in Taranaki.

Following university, Richard worked for Landcorp, first as technician in Christchurch and then operations manager overseeing 10 farms from Rotorua.

"It was good to work for a corporate and get experience with large scale farming. But I always wanted to go back farming on my own," he said.

Amy spent seven years working as the active communities manager for Sport Bay of Plenty and left last year to look after their three young children, Hadlee, 3, Grace, 19 months, Briar, one month, and help out on the farm.

"We have learned a lot over the last five years of farming and we are doing things better such as pasture and financial management," said Richard.

"Using pasture to turn a natural resource into a [milk] product and doing it sustainably - that's awesome."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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