Dairy awards a ‘reality check’

Dairy awards a ‘reality check’

Entering the 2017 Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards with a view to improving their business, husband and wife team Carlos and Bernice Delos Santos walked away with both the win of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year award and a firm plan for how to achieve farm ownership.
Carlos and Bernice are Filipinos who began farming in New Zealand in 2001.
They have progressed through the industry from relief milker, with Carlos sharing the title of East Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year in 2007, to their current 50/50 sharemilking position on Andrew and Dorothy McPherson’s 140ha effective farm at Ngakuru, where they have been since 2015.
“When we received the feedback from the competition, we were able to see the things we needed to improve on to make our business more profitable,” Carlos says.
“We thought we knew how to do a lot of it, but by entering the competition we had a bit of a reality check! We’ve still got a lot of things we can improve.”
One of the key points arising from last year’s competition feedback was Carlos and Bernice’s financial position, and had the couple get serious about analysing what funds were coming in to the business and what were going out of it. “We became more aware about benchmarking ourselves to see where we might be spending too much.
From there we can work on looking at what people with low farm working expenses are doing differently, then see whether we can adjust our own operation.”
The McPherson’s rolling to steep farm brings challenges; with a limited number of flat paddocks available for cropping or silage, as well as a need to be constantly on top of grass management, especially in the springtime when grass is growing quickly.
“If you’re not on top of that you can lose control, and you can lose those paddocks for the whole year because you can’t top them.”
Carlos and Bernice milked 280 cows in their first season on the McPherson farm, then 300 cows the following season.
After Dairy Industry Awards feedback, the couple restructured their self sufficient farm, and instead of grazing all the young stock at home as they had done, they started grazing them off last year and were able to increase cow numbers to 360. “Doing the budget, it made sense for us to milk more cows,” Carlos says.
“It made it easier for Bernice and I to run the farm, and this year we were able to employ someone full time. We’ve got three little kids as well so having a staff member helps us to juggle all of those things.”
Increasing the herd also removed the issue of having too much grass in those steep and challenging paddocks, and improved utilisation of feed.
Carlos and Bernice use a bit of palm kernel when needed, and for the past couple of years have planted 10ha to 15ha of chicory. “We want a simple system and with grass, chicory, and palm kernel, it doesn’t take too much labour or machinery.”
The Dairy Industry Awards have set Carlos and Bernice on a path towards farm ownership, which they hope to achieve in the next 10 years.

Dairy awards a ‘reality check’
2017 Central Plateau Dairy Industry Share Farmers of the Year, with daughters Claire and Cara, and son Carl. Carlos with assistant herd manager Kerri Austin.

They have worked out their budgets with the help of matamata based accountants Candy Gillespie and they know how many cows they need to be milking in which year in order to make it happen.
Carlos and Bernice have signed up to the McPherson farm for next season, giving them some time to think about their next step and how to go about growing their herd and their business.
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