Put the spotlight on your farm business

GippsDairy offers a variety of support services to farmers, but none are quite like the Focus Farms. The two-year project has been running in Gippsland for over twenty years. They include monthly support group meetings and three open days.

It’s designed for farm businesses that are looking to grow, planning the transition of farm/business ownership, want to develop their business skills and capability, make timely farm operational decisions, and are interested in farm decision making in a collaborative group learning environment.

Jared and Alex Moon, a father-son team based in Yanakie, recently finished participating in the Focus Farm Project as focus farmers. At the time they owned a farm and leased another. The family has been on the home farm for over sixty years and is one of only two soldier settlement families left in the area.

The project didn’t only highlight how important it is to be flexible in your business, but also how important it is to continue building on the foundations of your business. “We all know we should calculate our results and see how our cows are tracking. But you get lazy, and you’ve got your rules of thumb so you just do that. And one of the things the focus farm did for us was make us actually do it,” said Jared. “You do things for that long, it just becomes habit. We actually review our budget now, previously we just put it aside once it was done” said Jared.

The application process includes the submission of a written application, followed by an interview with a panel. Alex and Jared found the process pretty straight forward. “There’d never been a focus farm in Yanakie, and we were in the process of doing succession planning, making it a great time to sign up,” said Alex.

Jared has been participating in discussion groups since 2009 and was happy to open up his farm to others. When they started as the focus farm, their plan was to buy the farm they were leasing while also running their home farm. “We assumed the lease farm would be similar to run, but it was completely different. So being focus farmers and having other people’s input through the support group made a huge difference,” said Alex.

In the end the Moon family didn’t buy the lease farm, instead they consolidated back to the home farm. “You gotta be flexible with what you do. We didn’t have to do what we started out to do. It wasn’t set in stone. If it doesn’t work, change it,” said Alex.

They didn’t hesitate to be completely transparent about their operations and welcomed the feedback they received. “We went into the focus farm with the idea that we put everything on the table because it’s pointless for people to be giving their suggestions if they don’t have all of the information,” said Jared.

The Moon family was open to suggestions and combined with a great support group they were able to make improvements to their farm. “We had a good group, and we had realistic input. We made the majority of the improvements they suggested,” said Jared. “We did a farm walk one day and someone said we would need to get the grass off for silage. And before they’d actually left we had the tractor out.”

Another improvement to come out of the focus farm was a new dairy at their home farm. It meant they had to milk nearly 600 cows at their lease farm for almost six months. The 530-acre farm was made up of two small farms and half of another farm another farm, designed to designed to milk 250 cows. “We had a dairy that was 48 years old, that was still somewhat efficient,” said Alex. “I know when my father built it, he sat back and did what everyone else did and changed from a walk through to a herringbone. But the exits were the real issue.”

They are now able to milk their cows more efficiently, milking three hundred cows in less time than it used to take them to milk two hundred cows. “From when the last cow comes off, to when you put the first cow on the next round on, it’s about 45 seconds,” said Alex.

The new dairy has been a direct result of getting input and suggestions from other people. “If we hadn’t participated in the Focus Farm Project, we wouldn’t have built the new dairy. I suppose the focus farm project also pointed us in the direction of doing what we’ve done to the home farm, like looking at the laneways,” said Alex.

The Moons might not have ended up buying their lease farm, but they gained valuable experience along the way. “I’d know what to look for now before leasing another farm. I’d look at the watering of cattle capability of the farm. The laneways at the lease farm were very rocky.

"We spent a lot of money on them and they were still bad. We had a lot of feet problems,” said Jared.

The other big takeaway for the Moons was to use the free advice available to farmers like feed companies, nutritionists, fertiliser companies, field services and GippsDairy. “Now we actually have the feed reps come out and have a look at our cows,” said Alex. “It makes a huge difference.”

“I didn’t think I’d actually learn anything but I learned heaps,” said Alex. “There’s more benefits than there are drawbacks to participating in a focus farm.”

The Focus Farm Project has been beneficial to their business, and they would do it again if given the choice. “If anyone’s thinking of doing it and they’re sceptical, just do it,” said Jared.

For more information and to register your interest, please contact Donna Gibson, GippsDairy on 0447 277 288 or donna@gippsdairy.com.au

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