Frances Coles’ home farm has been a Synlait Lead with Pride farm since 2016/17 and now their equity partnership farm is heading the same way.

As I write this we are only days away from drying off the cows on all the farms, and it feels like I’ve only just blinked and the 2018-19 season has gone flying by.

Clearly, I’m getting old – as a year seems to go so much quicker now – which I guess is directly related to it becoming a smaller and smaller proportion of my life…

Potentially it may also seem to have gone so quickly because this year has just been so busy!

There have been some big changes in our business over the past 12 months – the purchase of a farm and having a contract milker start on another farm being the two biggies – and there always seems to be more to do in the office to keep track of all the moving parts that make up a successful agribusiness.

Audits are becoming a constant as farmers are under increasing pressure to prove to both regulators and customers that they have the best interests of their land, people and animals at heart in everything they do.

Most of our farms supply Synlait and we are part of their Lead With Pride quality assurance programme, with our home farm having first been certified in the 2016-17 season, and our equity partnership farm set to be signed off before the end of the season (fingers crossed)!

It’s a big deal to get both prepared for and through the audit itself. There’s no sugar-coating the fact that there is a lot of time, and even some financial costs, involved in gathering all the certifications and evidence you need to satisfy the auditors.

When we had our first full audit in the summer of 2016-17, it involved a nerve-wracking six hours with two independent auditors from AsureQuality poring through all our documentation across the four pillars of Milk Quality, Animal Health and Welfare, Social Responsibility and Environment. No stone was left unturned and it was a great relief to get the nod for the special sign at the end of our tanker track, which lets all who drive past know that we are doing the best we can on a daily basis, year in and year out.

Since then we have had annual ‘partial’ audits, with a third of each pillar being randomly chosen to be followed up on, making sure we keep the bar raised high. While these still involve two auditors looking over the farm and our paperwork/systems/evidence, they’re not so long, with this year’s being done and dusted in three hours. Not that that makes us too much less anxious leading up to them!

However, Synlait recognise the commitment farmers make to working through this process and the incentives make the work worthwhile. They are definitely taking the carrot vs. stick approach, which based on how many of their suppliers are either certified or working towards it, is the right attitude to have.

They also provide great support and guidance the whole way through the process, and we are eternally grateful for the effective working relationships we’ve built with key people within their company.

While other Synlait suppliers who have been through the process will relate to my story, I thought it was a good opportunity to share some background with other farmers, and would dearly love for our urban cousins to understand just what we go through in order to earn our social license to farm.

To that end, please feel free to leave your copy of this magazine at a local cafe/ library/bus-stop/doctors surgery once you are done with it, and don’t be afraid to share your own story of why you do what you do and how you care for your farms and teams with your urban family/friends/ colleagues.

I read an interesting opinion piece the other day that surmised that facts alone would not change the opinions of city dwellers; it was their perceptions which needed to be addressed. They might not remember what we say or do, but they will remember how we make them feel – so start spreading the pride you have to be a farmer in this corner of the world.