BRUCE Manintveld and Fiona Baker were good operators when they started as Focus Farmers two years ago – now they are even better.
That’s the assessment of farm consultant Jeff Urie, who facilitated the Focus Farm for the Mirboo North couple.
“They were very good to start with, but I think the two things that the Focus Farm has pushed for was in their young stock management and I think Bruce has continued to refine his pasture management skills and probably done more formal monitoring than he used to do,” Mr Urie said.
“That side of things has definitely paid dividends in the last season and will be critical in the coming season.”
Focus Farms are funded by GippsDairy and Dairy Australia using dairy service levy funds and provide an experienced farm consultant such as Mr Urie as a facilitator as well as a support group made up of fellow farmers and local service providers.
For Mr Manintveld, the rollercoaster of the past two years has shown where his strengths and weaknesses lie.
“It’s been good, I’ve learnt a lot and I hope everyone else has learnt a lot too,” he said during yesterday's final open day which attracted 60 people.
“Probably the biggest change I’ve made, is that I’m consciously taking more time to look at the young stock.
“I’ve always got away with it in the past, but now I am consciously making sure that I’m doing a good job – that they are being looked after a bit better and we are onto things more quickly.”
One of the couple's main goals during the Focus Farm has been to make a solid start to a 10-year plan to wipe out their debt.
When they bought the property in June 2013, they had $1.62 million in debt. The loan amount is already down to $1.1 million, despite the poor season that has restricted production from the 300 cows they milk on an effective area of 115 hectares.
“We’ve taken a hit this year, like everybody will, but we are still making progress,” Mr Manintveld said.
“We should still be on track for the 10 year plan - presuming we get a decent price back in the next couple of years. Considering the year, we might have done a bit better than you would expect.”
The climatic and milk price situation over the past two years has made the Focus Farm a fascinating and challenging exercise for all involved.
“We had one really good year and one awful year, which makes it a good Focus Farm because it allow people to see the extremes and it also highlighted that Bruce and Fiona’s cost of production in both years was almost identical,” Mr Urie said.
“One year yielded a better result because, season-wise, it allowed them to consume a lot more grass and convert it to milk.
“The second season didn’t allow that, but they didn’t spend any more money. So the cost of production on dollars per kilo of milk solids went up, not because we spent more, but because we produced less.
“And that was the choice of the Focus Farm, not to chase production in a bad season, but rather to minimise costs and inputs.”
GippsDairy extension officer Karen Romano said the Mirboo North Focus Farm had put to the test the couple's low-input approach to farming and had shown that it can work in both good and bad seasons.
“I think everyone involved in this Focus Farm has been impressed with Bruce and Fiona’s farming philosophy and also their willingness to learn from the support group around them,” she said.
“GippsDairy would like to thank Bruce and Fiona for being so open with their time and their financial situation, which made this a great Focus Farm to be involved with.”
The remaining Focus Farm field day in this round will be held at Tim and Grit Cashin’s farm at Cashins Road, Leongatha South on Friday, August 19, starting at 11am.