Program helps dairy families to build profitability and sustainability

Future-focused South Australian dairy farming families are signing on for a new program being delivered by Rural Business Support (RBS) that will help them to develop business plans linked with the opportunities identified by the SA Dairy Industry Action Plan and the Australian Dairy Plan.

The 2019 Dairy Farm Business Strategic Review is being rolled out by RBS in consultation with the SA Dairy Industry Fund, Dairy SA, the South Australian Dairy Association (SADA) and Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA). Twenty five families have signed up to date, with five places still available.

The program uses proven tools and on-farm support to assist farming families to consider fundamental questions around where their business is at, clarify where it is going and commit with confidence to where the family ideally wants it to be. Over the past three years pilot version of the program have been successfully delivered to farming families in the dairy, pork, grains and livestock sectors, including in drought affected regions, with the backing of PIRSA and industry bodies.

With the ultimate goal of gaining more family time, while building the profitability of their dairy amid industry uncertainty, the Clark family of Mount Gambier committed to making a major investment after completing the FBSR in 2016.

Natalie Clark’s husband David passed away 17 years ago. Together with her two sons, Josh and Sam, Natalie faced the daunting prospect of carrying on the multi-generational family dairy without David at the helm.

“We all had a steep learning curve,” Natalie said. “It was an incredibly difficult time, working long hours for many years.”

In the years that followed, Natalie, Josh and Sam, together with daughter in-laws Catherine and Jacinta, faced some big hurdles within the business. They registered for the first rollout of the Dairy FBSR hoping to deal with succession planning and the potential to upgrade an inadequate dairy shed and yards.

They thought the business was “doing ok” prior to FBSR, but afterwards said they had a better understanding of their financial position. The program, with the support of the RBS Dairy Analyst, helped them decide whether building a new dairy and repaying that loan would be achievable.

Today the Clark family’s dairy is at the leading edge of Australian milk production. The state-of-the-art robotic facility has enabled the family to dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on milking and free up more time with family and farming activities.

While incredibly humble about what the family has achieved, Natalie says that without the FBSR the family would not have had the confidence to commit to such a large project. The program also helped the family to accurately work out cost of production and given them the tools for negotiating with the bank manager, as well as put a succession plan in place.

“We are still working through systems, but there’s a lot more time freed up,” Natalie said. “I’m especially grateful for the help from the boys with calf rearing because they’re no longer tied up with milking.”

Herd management has improved greatly with the new dairy, including cow production, breeding and cow health, while making their working time more flexible.

“We will continue to improve on our systems and our business into the future,” Natalie said.

Rural Business Support CEO Brett Smith says early engagement is the key to FBSR’s success in overcoming previous barriers to the adoption of financial literacy and best practice by farming families.

“The FBSR works because we make it a priority to first engage with families emotionally,” Mr Smith said. “Through our experience in delivering the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS), we know the value of meeting with farming families at their kitchen tables. We sit down with them to talk privately and confidentially about their business, in the context of current family circumstances and future plans, before we work with them economically.

“We have discovered huge opportunities for farm business improvements once families understand benchmarking. The FBSR helps them to put their figures into perspective – to clearly identify how their business is going, relative to industry benchmarks and what their opportunities are.

“This program empowers families to adopt best practice, which in turn enables them to develop preparedness and resilience to deal with demanding adverse circumstances.”

The Dairy FBSR program is equivalent to $7500 of consulting support, with PIRSA, SA Dairy Industry Fund and DairySA covering the majority of costs. The cost for new families to “connect” is $1000 and $750 for families who participated in the Dairy FBSR in 2016 or 2017 to “reconnect”.

Dairy farming families wanting to find out more about the Dairy FBSR can email dairyreview@ruralbusinesssupport.org.au or call Nigel Robinson, (Project Manager Dairy – Farm Business Strategic Review) on 0499 556 488.

Media: Contact Brett Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Rural Business Support, on 0412 630 015 or Nigel Robinson, Business Development Manager, Rural Business Support on 0499 556 488.

Photo: RBS Farm Business Analyst Charlie Goode with dairy farming brothers Sam and Josh Clark. Image: Kristy Janeway Photography.