Comment: Vanessa Winning, GM Farm Performance at DairyNZ, explains why communication, compromise and commitment are also all-important in the business of farming.
Relationships are key to all successful businesses, and no less so when it comes to farm businesses.
This time of the year – when contract milkers and sharemilkers are moving farms, or starting a new season on the same farm – is the most important for building and nurturing those relationships.
This past week I was fortunate to attend a Waikato discussion group and hear from some excellent sharemilkers who navigate these relationships. Nothing is simple when you don't own the land and therefore don't have control of the decisions that affect your biggest asset, your herd.
These sharemilkers were clear – open and direct communication is key. Set the rules up front, they said, prioritise the farm owner's focus and work together to set the farm up the right way from the beginning – and share the decisions so there are no surprises.
There can be frustrations, especially around trying new things, or investing in infrastructure, but knowing the goals and plans of both parties is key to keeping the relationship strong and ensuring you are both achieving the desired results.
Recently we've heard of a few shocking cases of contracts for contract milking – contracts that essentially meant the contractor couldn't make enough money to cover their obligations, let alone step on the path to farm ownership in the long term.
One-sided contracts mean that no one ends up winning: farm owners either end up with overworked and under-resourced individuals or couples who make poor decisions, or get left with no one to do the work.
It's important that farm owners work with their contractors or sharemilkers and set them up to achieve. It's also key that a contract milker gets business advice, can do a realistic budget (use DairyNZ guides to see what's realistic and achievable), uses advisors like local lawyers and accountants, and sets clear and achievable objectives.
Doing all this is cheaper than you think, and a wise investment, in my opinion.
If the contract you are needing to sign is not going to give you what you need to set you up for a successful year – don't sign it, walk away. Or stay as a farm manager and take the time to move to the next role, as there are some great jobs out there with some great employers.
Know your business
Most of us don't go into the farming business for the business side of things, but we need to know it. Most farmers I work with love their land and their animals, and love being outside; the successful ones also know their costs and their profit rather than just their production, and they all have a plan.
My biggest advice is to take the time this June to walk the farm to look through the paddocks. Read up on the production and profitability of the past. Find out what is happening in your region, go to discussion groups, use the tools and services that you've already paid for with your levy, and continue to focus on what has and hasn't worked.
Build relationships in the area, meet other farmers and come to events.
You're not alone; there are tools and services and some great advisors out there to help you set up.
So invest some time up front, and set yourself up for a good start to the season.