Five years ago Brett Grindrod was new to farming and taking something of a crash course in the day-to-day running of a dairy farm.

But an ambition to learn has resulted in a business which is now ready for any challenges.

Grindrod and his wife Natasha are lower-order sharemilkers for Natasha's parents, Barry and Yvonne Richardson, near Whakatane. Milking 450 cows on the 140ha pasture-based farm, Grindrod worked his way from farm assistant to sharemilker.

This year the Whakatane dairy farmer is completing a diploma in agribusiness management.

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" I took a year off teaching and was planning to go back, but realised I really enjoyed dairy farming," he says.

"I immediately got involved with formal training.

"It's been excellent to back up practical experience with theory -- as to why you do things. I did Primary ITO levels three and four courses, then the diploma.

"Timing-wise, the diploma coincided well during the transition from manager to sharemilking.

"You need a different skillset and the diploma content aligned with where we were at."

Grindrod started the diploma of agribusiness management in 2013, gradually picking off each module: business and finance; taxation and investment; human resources; ownership and risk.

He is just starting resource management and planning.

He will complete the diploma by doing the business report module, which involves evaluating all aspects of an agribusiness and presenting a report.

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Their business is now more resilient to factors outside their control, such as payout.

"The practical cashflows and budgeting skills meant I was able to apply it immediately to our business," Grindrod says.

"We have to be conservative with our budget, but also realistic so we do not miss out on opportunities. We have a budget based on a $5.50 payout. That is fairly conservative but we can live comfortably on that.

"We look at the bottom line, then anything we produce over that is a bonus."

Brett and Natasha now have an accurate budget and cashflow set up before each season starts, adhere to it, and use their farm management plan to identify expenses.

Staff are well trained to ensure farm efficiency and productivity. A health and safety plan means there are few accidents. Grindrod emphasises the importance of keeping expenses down during a tough year.

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Business skills

The diploma also taught Grindrod specific business skills. Analysing every aspect of the business, then completing a business plan and a detailed three-year financial forecast cemented Brett and Natasha's goals and enabled detailed discussions with the bank.

"In practical ways the diploma helped us understand the tax system and the technical jargon bankers and accountants use, meaning we have more detailed discussions and make better decisions."

This year Brett and Natasha Grindrod won the Bay of Plenty Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title, a success he attributes to the diploma.

"We've set goals and action plans since starting the diploma and the sharemilker of the year was this year's goal, which we worked hard at.

"The next goal is purchasing the other half of the stock we need in the next five years."

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