Sharemilking a pathway to success
Hailing from the province of Groningen in the Netherlands, Theo Sneek came to New Zealand on a dairy farming exchange programme as a young man of 23.Sixteen years later, as a herd-owning sharemilker in partnership with his brother Martin, Theo wishes to encourage others in their journey through the dairy industry.
As Federated Farmers sharemilkers’ section chairperson for North Canterbury, Theo is concerned that throughout New Zealand less agricultural workers are taking up the challenge of becoming herd-owning sharemilkers.
“That’s a sad thing to see. I think young people can progress as herd-owning sharemilkers if they find the right owner and the farm owner finds the right sharemilker – then it becomes a win-win situation.
I want to encourage young people and farm owners that there is a pathway to grow their businesses.”Strongly advocating longer-term contracts between farm owner and herd-owning sharemilker, Theo says four to five year partnerships enable a continuity of farming practices that achieve mutually beneficial results.
“The farm owner also needs to be supportive all the way through with on-farm investment and farm improvement.“The farm owner should always be looking to improve the farm’s facilities to make it a more sustainable business.”
The National Animal Identification and Traceability (NAIT) Bill passed by Government sends a strong message to farmers about the importance of tracking all animal movements. DairyNZ’s biosecurity manager, Dr Liz Shackleton, says the ability to track all animal movements on and off farm is vital to protect New Zealand’s liveli-hood and the farming community.
“It’s not something to be underestimated, and this Bill gives it a clear focus. DairyNZ worked closely with other sector groups, putting forward an aligned sector view on the NAIT Bill to the Government,” says Dr Shackleton.
“Unregistered movements put not just individual farms but also the whole farming community at serious risk. “Mycoplasma bovis has shown us first- hand just how critical traceability is. Slow traceability means faster disease spread and bigger impact for the farm.
“Ultimately, responsibility for ensuring animals are registered, before they move, lies with the farmer and this hasn’t changed. The benefit of good traceability goes well beyond M. bovis. For any dis-ease that comes on farm, the quicker we can find, contain and control the threat, the better,” she says.
“Although many farmers are doing a good job at tracking their animal movements, every farm needs do their bit. Much like vaccination, a whole community approach is needed to ensure our defences are robust and can hold up against biosecurity threats”.
New Zealand cattle can clock up significant movement across the country each year, whether it is a sharemilker moving their herd to a new farm at the start of a new season, or to sales. “All these movements carry potential risk.
Farmers are ultimately responsible for ensuring animals are tagged and registered before they move, and the Bill signals stronger infringements are coming. If farms run mobs separately, farmers can consider separate biosecurity measures, such as double fencing.
“If farmers make only one resolution this New Year, it should be about protecting their farm by tagging and registering all animal movements and applying excellent biosecurity measures.”Dr Shackleton says DairyNZ, OSPRI and other sector groups are ready to support farmers.
Theo’s journey started as a farm assistant on a North Canterbury farm owned by Geoff Spark.After four seasons, Theo decided it was time to take more responsibility and signed a lower order sharemilking contract on a 950-cow farm in Methven.
When Theo’s brother Martin made the big traverse to New Zealand the following season the brothers moved to Culverden, signing a lower order contract with Amuri Dairying.
Establishing the business partnership of ‘Groningen Farms Ltd’ two years later, Theo and Martin took up their first herd-owning contract in 2010 – back to where it all began with Geoff Spark.
Over the years the business has steadily grown from 600 cows to now somewhere in the region of 1800 cows milked across two of Geoff Spark’s West Eyreton farms.Employing eight staff across the two farms, Theo runs one farm while Martin operates the other, sharing resources at critical and busy times.
When it comes to feed and grazing, the brothers work closely with Geoff Spark who has several farms in the North Canterbury region including grazing blocks.Last year Theo and Martin received the news that their entire herd had to be destroyed due to contact with M-Bovis.
“We learnt that Bovis had been found on a farm we bought some cows from and alerted MPI, ultimately losing the entire herd. It was a difficult time but there were good communication lines between my brother, Geoff and myself. And we worked closely with the MPI liaison officer throughout the process.”
While it was a setback, Theo and Martin maintained a positive outlook to the future and over the next 12 months re-populated from stock sourced from the North Island and are now back in operation.
“We were calving July this year. It was a challenging calving season because of the amount of young animals on the farm but it feels good to be back in business producing milk.”
Looking to the future, Theo and Martin have farm ownership firmly in their sights. “Sharemilking is hard work – but you progress yourself and ultimately the NZ dairy industry, and that is the good thing about sharemilking.”
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