Con­sul­tant ad­vice key to sav­ing farm

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By CHRIS GARD­NER

With a fore­cast milk­solids pay­out of $4.55 per kilo­gram three years ago and a busi­ness $ 220,000 in the red, Wal­ton dairy farm­ers Bren­dan and Ta­nia Ferny­hough were on the verge of declar­ing bank­ruptcy.

But be­fore call­ing the In­sol­vency and Trustee Ser­vice, the Fon­terra sup­pli­ers – the third gen­er­a­tion of Ferny­houghs to farm the 120-hectare prop­erty at Rohe Rd – weighed op­tions.

They could have freed up about $1 mil­lion in cap­i­tal by cash­ing in their Fon­terra shares and sup­ply­ing Open Coun­try Dairy in­stead.

‘‘ We were very close to it,’’ Mr Ferny­hough said. ‘‘The banks en­cour­aged us to and we looked at it.’’

They ruled that out, be­ing strong sup­port­ers of the co-op­er­a­tive ethos.

They also ruled out sell­ing part of the farm to pay debts be­cause they didn’t want to be the ones not to live up to the fam­ily legacy. Then they called in Vaughan Jones, the Hamil­ton agri­cul­tural con­sul­tant be­hind the grazin­ web­site, who they credit with sav­ing their busi­ness for their chil­dren.

Mr Jones, who has 50 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try, ad­vised the Ferny­houghs to re­duce their herd from 380 to 340, re­duc­ing palm ker­nel ex­tract feed, sup­ple­ment­ing with the Feedtech min­eral mix in­stead.

‘‘On a $4.55 pay­out we were not go­ing to break even. The thing we re­ally strug­gled with was the banks,’’ Mr Ferny­hough said. ‘‘It was not eco­nomic for us to keep feed­ing and the banks would have pulled the pin. We were just go­ing to go bank­rupt and Vaughan Jones came along and taught us how to grow more grass by us­ing lime.’’

The Ferny­houghs were us­ing 200kgs of ni­tro­gen fer­tiliser a hectare – 24,000kg a year. By last sea­son they had re­duced that, un­der Mr Jones’ ad­vice, to 90kg/ha or 10,800kg.

‘‘We were us­ing a lot of ni­tro­gen, now we use very lit­tle and the farm’s look­ing a lot bet­ter.’’

The Ferny­houghs have also aban­doned trac­tor­driven ploughs in favour of the older chisel ploughs.

‘‘We do quite a lot of re-grass­ing. Ten per cent of the farm is re-grassed ev­ery year. We need some­thing that works for our soil type, light ash, which dries very quickly in the sum­mer. We have gone to tra­di­tional tillage, away from power-run ma­chines.

‘‘In the last 30 or 40 years we have been farm­ing the top six inches. Chang­ing to the chisel plough brings some sub-soil back up.’’

An­other Jones’ sug­ges­tion to re­duce herd num­bers has also ben­e­fited the farm’s bot­tom line.

‘‘Be­cause we are run­ning fewer cows we are not los­ing out as far as grass pro­duc­tion goes in the sum­mer time,’’ Mr Ferny­hough said. ‘‘ We were re­ally strug­gling to get away from the model of high in­puts. Now we are more fo­cused than we used to be.’’

Tak­ing stock: Wal­ton dairy farmer Bren­dan Ferny­hough called in an agri­cul­tural con­sul­tant to help beat fi­nan­cial prob­lems.

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