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Growing people in a ‘Promised Land’

Growing people in a ‘Promised Land’

Growing people, developing systems and building strong channels of communication are key success areas for North Canterbury dairy farmer’s Emlyn and Hilary Francis, owners of Upper Balmoral Ltd.

“You can’t make people work for you – they have to want to do it – so it’s about having everything right so that they want to do the job for you,” says Emlyn. “Our business is not cows and grass – it’s people.”

Emlyn and Hilary farm in Culverden – a place Emlyn refers to as the ‘Promised Land’ because it has good water, a good climate, good people and it’s close enough to get the things he needs but not so close that he’s too tied up in the urban sprawl.

Originally from a family dairy farm in the Waikato, Emlyn crossed the great divide to the South when he left school, attending Lincoln University which led to a dairy placement in Culverden.

While he’s worked and travelled extensively, Culverden has always been his mecca.

Following the usual progression in dairy farming, Emlyn and Hilary bought Hilary’s parent’s Culverden farm in 2006, expanding it in 2009.

With 630ha, predominantly under pivot irrigation from the recently piped Amuri Irrigation Scheme, and currently milking 1400 cows, producing 450kgMS/cow, it’s a big farming operation.

The milking platform is 450ha and next season Emlyn expects to calve down 1600 cows. The balance of the farm is support land for winter cropping and forage crops.

With Emlyn maintaining a helicopter view on the running of the operation and Hilary responsible for health, safety and compliance, a team of nine keep the farm operating on a daily basis. “Our manager, Emma Gibb, started here in the spring of 2010 as a calf rearer,” says Emlyn.

“Now she runs the place, does all the day-to-day staff direction and rosters, helps us develop the systems and gets the milk out the gate.”

A key objective is to keep daily staff hours to a realistic level and for the most part the farm operates on an 8 days on-2 days off /7 days on 4 days off roster so that every three weeks there is a four day weekend.

“Ultimately it’s not up to the staff to subsidise our business so we need to enable them to have a life, have a social life and play sport if the want to and do all the things they would do if they had a job in town.”

The cows are milked through an 80-bale rotary shed with automatic cup removers—a key tool in being able to look after people, enabling significant flexibility to the roster and allowing the team the ability to have late starts/early finishes.

Emlyn says that almost half the team are women, with three female managers over the last 15 years. With a clear focus on people, Emlyn says that attracting the right people is about developing a reputation as a good employer that people want to work for.

“Ultimately we want to develop someone who will want to buy our farm down the track. That’s a strength of the industry historically and we need to keep that.”


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