Charlie McCaig is packing up after six years in an equity partnership and taking his young family on the road around Europe.

Summer has started to bite in Taranaki. After a pretty miserable start to the season, late spring was very kind and we have managed to harvest near-record levels of supplement from the farm. Cow condition took a bigger knock in August than was ideal but hopefully the extra supplements we made will balance that issue out.

December rainfall was good at 170mm but that had all come and gone by mid-December and at the time of writing, we’ve had less than 20mm over the last seven weeks.

When we were putting plans in place for this season we were thinking largely about milk and feed prices. Staffing requirements and weather also featured highly in the planning. We certainly wouldn’t have picked that, in early February, the world would be on the brink of a Coronavirus pandemic. Further still, I don’t think anyone outside of government and multinationals would have given much thought to how a pandemic would affect international trade. Hopefully, though, the problem will be short-lived and not as serious as it currently looks like it might be!

As I’ve mentioned many times, the question of “what next” is one we spend a lot of time thinking about. Early in this season we decided that although we didn’t know the exact answer, continuing what we are doing wasn’t the answer. That meant that the time was right to exit our equity partnership.

It’s been six years since we all started putting the pieces together that brought about the partnership, but it’s fair to say that in that time we, our partners, and even the wider industry, have adjusted plans and aspirations and have moved to a point where it made the most sense to part ways – a “conscious uncoupling”.

The onfarm implications of that decision are that we have to be much more careful about cow condition as we head towards a herd sale and hand over to a new operator at the end of this season. As such we’ve already put one of our 500-cow herds on to once-a-day milking and will likely put the other 500-cow herd on to once-a-day by the end of February.

Taking steps like this are necessary but it means we’ve scaled back our production expectations. Now if Coronavirus could just do us a favour and not spoil the milk price that would be great!

Exiting a partnership that we sold all our farming equipment into presented us with a unique opportunity of being mortgage and (mostly) commitment-free apart from two young kids. With that in mind we revisited the “what next” question and came up with a surprising answer – taking a family gap year!

We’re not out of the industry but we saw an opportunity that may not present itself again for another 10 years (by which time the kids will be teenagers and won’t want to come on holiday with us anymore!) and decided to go for it. So, envy us or pity us, as we will be spending five to six months travelling around Europe in a confined space with an eight-year-old and a six-year-old.

It’s going to be an amazing trip and taking a break from the complications and pressures of running an agricultural business will feel great. Knowing us though, when we return to NZ in 2021, we’ll already have spent a good deal of time wondering “what next?”.