John Milne has put pen to paper again to tell us about how things are tracking on the Coast at Cape Foulwind.

A bit about us. We milk 300 pet Jersey cows on the West Coast of the South Island. Westport is our main town. The area we farm is called Cape Foulwind, or as the locals say “Out the Cape”. It’s on a peninsula and it’s damned windy some days or weeks. In the same breath it is lovely when it’s not windy – views of the Paparoas to the south-southeast, Tasman sea to the north – on a clear, still day you can’t beat it.

We have owned this farm for 13 years now, running it ourselves for the past six seasons. Prior to that we had a manager on the property while we sharemilked and later owned another farm “up the nine mile” on the other side of the Buller River. We sold that seven years ago and had a year of almost being a townie while the manager worked out the end of his contract.

My wife Jo-Anne and I have three adult children: Samantha 26, Aimee 22 and Hamish 18.

Following one of the slowest growing springs on record in the 19/20 season we are having one of the best autumns and winters leading us into a fantastic early spring period this season (20/21) for the Coast.

Baling of some surplus grass has been completed in some areas of the Coast already. Long grass is extremely difficult to graze in a normal spring here, with poor utilisation on wet ground being the norm.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for sure. We are off to a flyer.

Well over 12 months ago I put pen to paper to express the dilemma the West Coast dairy farming community was having with the sale of Westland Milk Products to Yili, and opinions of a lot of outsiders trying their best to tell us what was best for us and our future. Thankfully voting time came around with the result that now the Coast dairy industry can carry on.

The sale was completed on the 1st August 2019, and to be honest it’s been like a breath of fresh air.

Milking cows, putting milk in the vat and getting paid a competitive milk price, with incentives for high quality milk components as well, is great. We just don’t know, or need to know, what’s happening at the other end any more.

We have 10 years guaranteed competitive milk prices. It’s not a long time when you think about it but on the other hand it’s a set time for us to focus on our businesses and what we need to achieve in that time. In 10 years if Yili doesn’t want our milk someone else will. Demand for dairy products isn’t dropping or slowing – it may be changing but demand is still there.

Sure we are supplying a Chinese-owned company now that is going from strength to strength worldwide. Is it a worry? Of course it is. But at least we are no longer in a co-op trying to sell into a Chinese market, getting it wrong time after time, and hearing that the milk price is dropping because they got it wrong.

Yili has had a busy winter maintenance catchup in Hokitika, which has been good to hear. It really shows the importance of being able to process raw milk on this side of the Alps and shows that they are investing in the Coast.

The Coast has traditionally been a starting point for a lot of young couples to get on the farm ownership ladder. Large sharemilkers cash up and make the next move here. Those days have definitely slowed with banks becoming more stringent on lending and owners holding onto properties because land prices have crashed to such a low level on the Coast at present. It will change again, I’m sure, with some steady payouts and time under our belts with Yili.

We need young people entering the industry to keep the small towns and communities up and down the country buoyant.