By Anne Lee

People, pasture and profit – they’re three key factors that have Will Green and his partner Sally Eames firmly on target for owning their own farm.

There’s no wishful thinking or dreamy “nice to have one day” notion about them – they know what they want and what’s more they have a firm plan of how they’re getting there.

It’s not all in the future either – the plan is working and they’re definitely on their way.

“I had a goal of milking my own cows by the time I was 30 and I got there even though I was cutting it a bit fine with just 19 days to spare before I turned 31,” Will laughs.

That was at the start of the 2020/21 season when he took up a variable order sharemilking contract with Dairy Holdings Ltd (DHL) milking 1060 cows. He’d made the move just five years after arriving in New Zealand from Shropshire, England, where his parents run a dairy, sheep, beef and cropping operation under a tenancy agreement.

“There’s little chance in England of working up to owning your own farm and I’d seen what was possible when I’d been out to New Zealand for a year doing practical work for my (Bachelor of Agriculture and Science) degree at Harper Adams.”

He made contact with Kieran and Leonie Guiney at Fairlie, after hearing their progression story and knowing their strong pasture-based focus.

After a year working for them and hungrily soaking up information, he stepped up to a manager role with them before they then took him on as a variable order sharemilker.

He won the Canterbury/North Otago farm manager of the year award in 2018.

Building connections and developing his strategic and financial analysis skills were all a part of his longer-term plan as was building equity pretty much from the ground up. In 2020/21 he took on a role as a 34% variable order sharemilker with DHL and bought 420 cows.

“I used money I’d saved from wages and profits from the sharemilking business – from being quite disciplined.”

The ability to grow stock numbers was a drawcard while continuing with the same pasture focus and an eye on profit rather than production he’d had with the Guineys. At the start of the 2021/22 season, he bought another 290 cows and leases them back to another DHL farm.

This coming season he’ll make the next big leap, stepping up to owning 90% of the herd and earning 47% of the milk cheque.

He’ll go from paying 34% of most of the costs a herd-owning sharemilker would pay, apart from animal health, to 47% of those costs including animal health.

Under the agreement with DHL, once the farm has its replacement heifer requirement, he’s able to rear any other calves with a $100 cost per calf charged for milk and grazing up to weaning at 100kg.

He’s reared an extra 50 each year but has also owned 40% of the replacements reared. Along with owning those replacements he’s paid 40% of the cost of rearing them.

“The ability to keep reinvesting, growing stocking numbers and growing equity on the same farm is a pretty unique opportunity.”

The couple’s wealth creation strategy, once they own the whole herd, is to make a profit each year of $1/kg milksolids (MS) after tax, which amounts to about $350,000/year on his current farm.

The aim is to invest that money in stock which can then be leased back earning him 8-10%/year return. The seven-year plan is to have $3.5-$4 million of equity.

“A 200-cow farm is probably in reach now but while the heart says that could be good the head says no, wait.

“We’re conscious that at that size, we’re it when it comes to staffing and we’re tied to it.

“The goal is to have balance and the freedom and for others to be able to carry on if I have to drop everything and go back to England to see my family if I had to do that suddenly for any reason.”

Will and Sally have a strong relationship with their bankers and have worked through the numbers on their farm purchase plans to ensure they stack up.

“It’s definitely doable – it’s not easy, but it’s doable,” Will says.

Sally works off farm for MedSource, a veterinary equipment company but is also involved in the farming business alongside Will, helping manage accounts and admin as well as the strategic plan. She’s from a sheep and beef farm in Manawatu and trained as a veterinary technician at Massey University.

The pair say people are key to the success of their large-scale dairying business.

“We’ve both worked for great employers and we want to be great employers too.

“We’re conscious of going that extra mile so people enjoy their time with us.

“We involve our people and want to bring them with us, empowering them along the way.”

As well as their own employers, Will and Sally have taken inspiration from team sports and the culture that comes from successful teams. It’s how they met back in 2019 – at the local Thursday night touch rugby competitions. The team approach extends from recruiting people who will create a good team fit, to making sure everyone gets to know each other well both inside and outside work and ensuring everyone is learning and growing in their jobs.

Although he’s also a keen rugby player, Will and his three farm team members – one Uruguayan, one Argentinean and one from Ireland – have put together a football team for a five-a-side football competition in Ashburton.

“We’ve come second in the competition three times in a row – it’s great fun.”

Ensuring people not only enjoy their job but also get home safely every night is a top priority.

They have weekly health and safety meetings and it’s become top of mind for all and part of the farm culture.

“We have a huge wealth of knowledge, resources and help within the management at DHL – we’re so well supported.”

Coming from the United Kingdom he says being active in your local community is very important to him and both he and Sally have strong social connections off farm whether that’s through sport, or through local arts and theatre groups for Sally.

Will’s a strong supporter of the co-operative ethos with Fonterra, the envy of many global dairy farmers.

He’s had the opportunity to be involved in Fonterra’s understanding your co-operative programme and My Connect conference and has given voice to the views of the next generation of shareholders.

He’s also had connections with the Pasture Summit and lives and breathes pasture management onfarm as the  sharemilking business name Greener Grazing suggests. The whole farm team will often participate in weekly pasture walks, measuring pasture covers, monitoring growth rates and paddock condition and assessing residuals.

“It’s the best training for everyone onfarm. It develops the whole team’s skills and it’s so important because it’s what’s at the heart of what we’re doing here.

“We’re very focused on round length, grazing at the third-leaf stage – so monitoring where that’s at and hitting residuals.”

The spring rotation planner is used through the start of the season and he doesn’t go faster than a 25-day round through summer. Any true surplus is taken for silage and may be fed back to cows in autumn to extend the round with other tools such as culling and selective drying off used to bring demand down to match pasture supply.

“From the end of January, we start extending the round until we’re out to a 50-day round by mid-April.

“We have very simple rules but managing within them means closely monitoring every grazing to get it right.”

Each team member has an area of the farm they’re responsible for which includes moving sprinklers and K-lines stationed in the corners where the two pivots don’t reach.

“All together it takes 2.5 hours to move them each day but because everyone does their own area the time spent per person is minimised.

“The responsibilities within each area also include fences and maintenance so when we’re out on the farm walk there can be a bit of ribbing if something’s not up to standard. “It creates a bit of healthy competition and accountability from within the team without finger pointing or blame shifting.”