The dairy payout may have been good, but there has been plenty to trouble dairy farmers, Kirsty Verhoek writes.

If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all. True, but there is no point sugar-coating something if it isn’t – and for us, despite the payout, the dairy industry right now certainly isn’t a bed of roses.

This season has been hard. We are questioning the dairy industry as a way of life. With a lack of time off farm, we can see how mental health and wellbeing is a huge issue in this industry. For us, it has been staffing woes. It has been the gift that has kept giving all season. We know we are not unique; that sinking feeling when a text comes in at 4am that someone can’t make it in to milk, when someone simply doesn’t turn up, or, when staff leave in the busiest part of the season. When you continuously work your rostered days off, or you hardly see your kids because they are in bed by the time you get in.

We feel disappointed and let down by the government for not providing better support in this area. It shouldn’t be a big ask. While a pandemic is wreaking havoc we are making a significant contribution to the economy and we are in an industry that can afford to employ staff (if we can find them!).

So, how to keep the faith and persist? The pep talks we give each other have helped, as does reminding ourselves of the bigger picture. The tricky bit is to get through it and not put our kids off farming.

We are so grateful for our community of support; friends and family who have chipped in and helped. We are constantly looking at our business and how to make farming more attractive for staff. Good rosters, time off, remuneration, quality onfarm accommodation etc. We have invested in the services of a Recruitment Agency to help us find the right people.

We are also investing in technology with Halter coming on board in the New Year. To be frank, we hope that technology will make our business less vulnerable and exposed to staff shortcomings.

Not to be all doom and gloom; there are good things. For us it was recently welcoming our third child Lachlan and celebrating a ripper of 2020/21 season as first-year 50/50 sharemilkers.

We do monthly benchmarking with BakerAg and it’s invaluable to our business. The benchmarking lets us celebrate what we are doing right – it keeps our faith. It also keeps tabs on things that have the potential to go awry, and it gives us the chance to improve on areas that aren’t stacking up.

Based on our monthly benchmark reports, going forward we are really focusing on managing our costs. According to BakerAg Milklines Nov 2021 Issue, costs are ballooning since last season, e.g. +45% for diesel, +13% for palm kernel, +6% for wages; +60% for urea – to name a few.

We want to reap this good payout and not get to the end of the season and find we made less profit compared to last season. This is proving harder than first thought.

Closing remarks; costs are up, review your budgets. Now is the time to do it and have a good handle on what you are spending. Don’t be like us; make sure you have a break and get some time off farm. Christmas is a good excuse for this!