Taking Stock program shows way forward

20 Nov, 2018 04:00 AM
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Anyone from outside your farm is going to have fresh ideas ...

When starting dairy farming during the worst drought in a century, a helping hand is much appreciated.

Emily and Matt Neilson started milking on their Bandon Grove, NSW, dairy farm three-and-a-half years ago and have since battled the milk price crash and a devastating drought.

When Mrs Neilson heard about Dairy Australia's Taking Stock program, which offers farmers free one-on-one visits from a farm consultant, she signed on straight away.

Since then, things have been turning around for the Hunter Valley farmers, who have finally received some significant rain and have made their own luck by changing important parts of their business.

"The last 12 months have been especially challenging, so any advice we could get was appreciated," Mrs Neilson said.

"The attraction of Taking Stock was having that third party looking over our finances, telling us where we should pull things in and how to work towards our goals while staying out of a big financial hole.

Taking Stock was of particular benefit to Mrs Neilson, who handles the farm business finances, despite having no formal training in that area.

"For (consultant John Fitzgerald) to say that we are doing the right things, it was really good for me because all the weight of the finances falls on me," she said.

"The biggest thing was that he told us that we were doing well. At the time, we were just getting through each day, so having someone tell us that we are on the right track just gave us a bit of a boost.

"It was really good for budgeting strategies. It put us on the right track. We are now budgeting more often and more accurately.

"We were doing a budget every six months, and John pushed us towards doing it every three months. Having it done more regularly and accurately has definitely been beneficial to the business.

"The main thing that we were doing well was that we were paying everything on time and were up-to-date with managing bills and we didn't owe anything except our loan.

"We were rearing bull calves to sell, which was adding to cash-flow, which was another tick."

Subsequent to the Taking Stock analysis, the Neilsons decided to engage local nutritionist Neil Moss, a decision that has had a profound impact on their farm business.

"It's the best thing we ever did," Mrs Neilson said.

"We came to a point where we could not afford to buy any more forage, so everything the cows needed to eat, we had to grow.

"We took on Neil and he really helped Matt by sitting him down and making him create a plan and look at crop varieties and then held him accountable. Working with a nutritionist, especially for drought-affected people, can help get them through."

With enough rain in the soil, Mr Neilson will be looking at summer cropping to help get the herd through the dry months.

"We always sow sorghum and we will do that again, but we have never sown millet and we are going to give that a go," Mrs Neilson said.

Having benefited from Taking Stock, Mrs Neilson is encouraging other farmers to take up the offer of the Dairy Australia program.

"It's free -- so why not," she said.

"When you've got your head down and you are so busy just trying to get through each day, it's great to have someone come in and say that it's not that bad, or this is something we can do, or to offer an out-of-the-box idea on how to generate income.

"Anyone from outside your farm is going to have fresh ideas which might just make you try something a bit different."

Mrs Neilson said maintaining a positive attitude was important during a stressful time, with her off-farm work as a Young Dairy Network co-ordinator helping to bring in outside income and give her a break from the stresses of running a farm business.

"It was during this period that I started working with YDN, which has really helped me," she said.

"It got me off farm and talking to other farmers who are in the same boat as us. Just to have those days away from the farm has made a big difference."

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