NSW farmer drives down COP through Focus Farm
| At a glance: Justin and Libby Walsh's Focus Farm
| Milking area
| Milking herd
|| 280 cows (Holsteins and crossbreds)
| Calving pattern
||60% autumn, 40% spring
|| Urea and DAP, nitrogen applied at 133kgN/milking ha (2017-18)
Reduce cost of production
Double dry matter tonnage
| Progress to date
||50% increase in dry matter tonnage (up two tonnes per hectare)
NSW dairy farmers Justin and Libby Walsh achieved significant gains in pasture growth and slashed their cost of production in a tough season by taking part in Dairy Australia’s Focus Farms program.
The south coast farmers recently took over the family farm from Mr Walsh’s parents after a period of succession planning and saw the transition as an opportunity to set up their operation for success.
Now 15 months into the two-year program, Mr and Mrs Walsh have made significant inroads to drive down their cost of production and increase their profit margins.
“Focus Farms is one of the best and most valuable programs that Dairy Australia runs,” Mr Walsh said.
“Through the program, we now have a solid base to easily assess improvements in our business for the long-term, as well as access to an enhanced level of analysis of our unique situation to inform decision-making.”
Achieving tangible outcomes
When he entered the program in August 2018, Mr Walsh identified his pasture and fertiliser management approach as a key area for improvement to drive profitability.
Despite securing a high milk price in recent years, Mr Walsh said it was challenging to realise the benefits due to his high cost of production.
“Our main objective was lowering our cost of production and a key goal was growing more grass,” he said.
Mr Walsh set a goal of doubling his tonnage per hectare by the conclusion of the program – and he is already well on his way to success.
Adapting his pasture and fertiliser programs after he received advice from his support group, Mr Walsh has moved toward planting the entire milking platform with a combination of ryegrass and oats.
The Walshs also used widespread suppression of kikuyu to plant ryegrass earlier in the season to get more grazings out of each season.
The result that while the south coast experienced one of its driest seasons on record, the Walshs achieved a 50 per cent increase in dry matter tonnage – a substantial boost of two tonnes per hectare.
Connecting with farmers and advisors
The best part of participating in the Focus Farm program for the Walshs has been connecting with other farmers and service providers to offer more micro-level advice on their farming operations.
Their support group is comprised of nine local farmers and six service providers, including a nutritionist, an agronomist, a feed specialist, a Dairy Australia representative, a processor field officer, and a farm business consultant.
Together, this network provides advice on a range of opportunities for improvement in Mr and Mrs Walsh’s farm business operation – a unique opportunity to draw from a variety of skills and perspectives to make informed decisions.
For Mr Walsh, the key benefit of this network has been receiving tailored advice that looks at every aspect of his farming operation with a better understanding of his unique situation.
Having already used DairyBase to compile and compare his farm data using “the same language as other farmers”, Mr Walsh saw Focus Farms as an opportunity to generate real-life comparisons using knowledge provided by farmers and service providers in his region.
“Participating in the Focus Farm program was a real opportunity to bring these people together – I wouldn’t have had access to the depth of knowledge that was provided to us without this program,” he said.
“Your support group gets to know the intricacies of your farm business, rather than high level or general advice that you would usually receive.”
As well as immediate access to an experienced support group, Mr Walsh has broadened his network through referrals and signposting.
“You can do a lot of networking through people in your support group and I now have contacts for specialists for hay or for repro that I wouldn’t have had before,” he said.
“The networking is unbelievable through this program – you don’t really understand how wide reaching this program can be until you’re in.”
Reward for openness and transparency
While he was initially uncertain about the benefits of sharing detailed information about his farm with others in the industry, Mr Walsh believes he has been rewarded with stronger relationships and better advice.
“The process can be a little confronting at first, but my wife and I decided that unless people understand the financial position we’re in – negatively or positively – it’s very difficult to receive sound advice,” he said.
“But while it was confronting, we knew that our support group would use their professional discretion, and it puts them in a much better position to provide advice going forward about our farm.”
Since openly sharing information about his farming system, Mr Walsh believes that other farmers have repaid his openness with more informed discussions and insights.
“I find that people reciprocate your openness – you can have much better discussions because people can see you know what you’re talking about and that you’re being up front,” he said.
“The vast majority of dairy farmers are facing similar situations or decisions, and people are definitely more open toward us now that we’re more open to them.”