Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 25 February 2018

Monaghan native taking his opportunities in New Zealand

Olin Greenan is pictured with his wife Anna and
Olin Greenan is pictured with his wife Anna and

Olin Greenan

Olin Greenan is a 36-year-old dairy farmer in New Zealand. He hails from a small dairy farm at Newbliss, Co Monaghan.

He first went to New Zealand in 2001 after being told at agricultural college that anybody passionate about dairying should have a New Zealand stamp on their passport.

He started as a farm assistant and herd manager, before being promoted to farm manager and contract milker. He won New Zealand's prestigious Dairy Farm Manager of the Year award in 2008.

He is married to Anna and has a one-year-old son called Jack.

June 1 is known as Gypsy Day in New Zealand, when all leases and contracts traditionally finish. However, it is also a hugely stressful and expensive day for farmers climbing the dairy career ladder in New Zealand, like Olin.

Last June they moved from a 70ha farm near Hamilton, in the heart of the famous dairy district of Waikato, further north to the Clevedon district in South Auckland.

The old farm, on which they had been for four years, ran 240 cows in the last season.

However, Olin doubled his cow numbers this year to take advantage of a much larger farm.

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He recounts the ups and downs of the last number of months. Another busy year to report in the Greenan household.

"On June 1 last year we packed up everything and moved 110km north to Clevedon in South Auckland where we now sharemilk 480 cows on 170ha.

However, the most exciting news is that on November 23, Jack Malachy Greenan arrived into this world safe and sound. I am sure he will be a valuable asset to the farm team in the future.

I am looking forward to Jack growing up on the farm and I will soon be able to re-live my own youth and help Jack build his model farm empire.

Our organisation skills were tested to the max in the run up to Gypsy Day. It was a logistical exercise we won't be in a hurry to repeat.

Prized

We had 48 hours to load 10 truck and trailer units to shift the 480 cows from various farms. I took care of loading my 250 cows on our previous holding, while the other stock were trucked in from other locations. One of our employees was posted on the new farm site to oversee the safe unloading of these prized assets.

Meanwhile, our entire house contents were loaded and packed on to another truck. The final piece of the moving exercise was the transportation of all farm machinery. I managed to reduce some transport costs by driving my tractor and feed wagon loaded with miscellaneous farm equipment, but it really was a sight to behold.

This three-hour drive took place the week before changeover and was a nice opportunity to take time to 'smell the roses' amidst the chaos.

The new farm is going well and we are on target for our budgeted milk production of 170,000kg of milk solids (MS). We are 26pc ahead on the previous sharemilker's production so the owners are very satisfied with our performance so far.

But the year has not been without its challenges. The new property is located further north towards Auckland, where the climate is slightly warmer. A disease that I had never previously heard of raised its ugly head.

Theileria is a disease caused by tick infestation. Most of my cows had no previous exposure to the tick, and quite a few succumbed to infection as a result.

The only cure was a medicine that had a 35-day milk withholding period, which hit our milk deliveries.

Thankfully, we got on top of things and are back on track. The vet reckons that our cows should now have had enough exposure to build up good levels of immunity.

Becoming familiar with a new farm can be challenging in many unforeseen ways. The owner here lives off-farm, which is unlike any previous farm that I have managed or share-milked on. As a result we had absolutely no idea where many of the essentials were located, like the water taps for example. A lot of unnecessary time was wasted becoming familiar with certain things.

Another challenge on our new property is that we are one of very few dairy farms in the area. I had become very used to a strong dairy community close by in the Waikato. But the upside is that the change forced Anna and I to tap into a completely new network in this area. We milk the herd through a 28-bail rotary. This is a very small 'shed' for the number of cows in New Zealand terms. It has very little automation, with no cup removers so two people are needed to milk at all times.

As a result we employ two people to work alongside myself. But the installation of automatic cup removers for next season is a priority to get this labour inefficiency sorted out. In addition, it will eliminate the requirement for outside relief to cover for time off.

The farm runs a lower stocking rate than any previous operations I have managed. Poorer annual grass growth is the main reason we are stocked at 2.8 cows/ha. I am still running a similar low-input system and this year we grew 6.5ha of turnips and 7ha of maize.

The turnips were fed from mid-January and yielded 14t/ha drymatter (DM). I am pleasantly surprised how well the cows took to them as their high-protein content complements low-protein summer grass very nicely.

Up until early February we had sufficient grass. However, the summer was well and truly in at that stage which meant we had to introduce our normal dry summer management mode. Cow condition is a key concern during this period, but it's holding up reasonably well so far. We always monitor this closely ad usually dry off some lighter, younger cows during the period.

Despite having to combine two herds and deal with a theileria outbreak, our mating went well this year. We achieved a six-week in-calf rate of 76pc and a confirmed empty cow rate of 6pc. This was achieved on an all-grass diet during the breeding season.

Leadership

The scale of this new farm means that I can get time off a little easier than in our last farm. Managing staff will always be challenging but it can be very rewarding watching people grow under your leadership.

Anna is now at home full-time with Jack, so she looks after human resources and administration duties. I am enjoying the variety of tasks involved in the operation and delegation allows me to work 'on' the business rather than 'in' it.

Our long-term goal of farm ownership will soon become a short-term goal so it is important that a strategy and plan for this is formulated.

The cliché of volatility is still very important in relation to milk prices. This year is a classic example. At the beginning of the season we ran our budgets on a predicted payout of NZ$5.70/kg MS (€3.88/kg).

However, as the season progressed this figure was soon surpassed and it now looks highly likely we will receive a record payout in the region of NZ$8.40/kg MS (€5.62/kg).

Next year the price is predicted to drop to around NZ$7/kg MS (€4.68/kg). One noticeable difference in the larger operation is the greater fluctuation in cash flow due to changing payout. Thankfully, this year that fluctuation is positive and enabled us to start paying off a significant amount of principal a lot earlier than planned.

With a payout like this it would be quite easy to be persuaded to chase extra production by buying in extra feed. Yes, you generate extra income in a year like this, but I am quite strict on the system I run.

The low-cost model generates good surplus cash but, more importantly, it allows us to withstand a drop in payout which many higher input farmers would be unable to manage. My thinking is that you need to have a good plan and solid budgets to back everything up. This will be even more relevant for the post-quota in 2015 where there might be a temptation to expand without doing due diligence on the details. Many of you will be well aware of the food safety scare involving Fonterra back in August. This was a huge wake-up call for the co-operative and it's amazing the reaction that took place globally.

It really proved the importance of following protocol and also reassuring our markets that the products we produce are safe. Baby formula in particular can be very a very emotive topic and, needless to say, the media had a field day. Thankfully the impact of the scare was short lived and there was no major damage to the brand.

It reinforced my belief that we need to be at the top of our game in terms of environmental awareness and animal welfare. Like it or not, the consumer will always call the shots. We must leave no stone unturned in making sure we are seen as caretakers for the land and our animals.

I have not been home since Christmas 2009, so I am overdue a visit. This June, Anna, Jack and myself will spend three weeks catching up with family and friends.

Hopefully we get to see Monaghan begin the defence of their Ulster crown. I'm also looking forward to seeing how prepared farmers are for the non-quota era – I expect to see a lot of good business plans.

Hope the weather treats everyone in the Northern Hemisphere well this spring. Remember to send any surplus rain our direction to keep our season on track.

And as always, farm safe.

Indo Farming