Dairy focus project helps farmers find their mojo

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 08:59 10/07/2014
Taranaki focus farm hosts Kathy and Chris Prankerd
CHARLOTTE CURD/Fairfax NZ

LOOKING FORWARD: Taranaki focus farm hosts Kathy and Chris Prankerd will continue to make improvements to their farm business.

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The success of changes introduced during Taranaki's three-year focus farm project have motivated the hosts to continue growing their business.

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The Tariki farmers who hosted the Taranaki focus farm will continue to apply the lessons they've learned.

The focus farm project established by DairyNZ at the start of the 2010-11 dairy season has now concluded.

"The big changes we've put in place will continue to motivate me," said host Chris Prankerd.

"We've grown the business and we're doing different things, so we'll continue to push the boundaries. We'll keep doing what we've been doing. Why change it when we know it works? I'm definitely not going back to the way I was."

Wife Kathy said before the couple put themselves forward for the project they had lost their passion for farming.

Her husband agreed. "We were having trouble getting ahead. It was a vicious circle and we were going nowhere. We were not growing the grass, cows were not in condition and they weren't getting in calf.

"We went OK in the good years, but those unforeseen things nailed us.

"It was an under-performing farm at the beginning. I just wanted to do better and hoped to achieve 1000kg MS/ha. We exceeded 90,000kg MS production this year, so we got where I hoped we would. Now we hope to achieve better than that. It's just the start of the journey."

Kathy Prankerd attributed the project's success to the team of supporters.

"It's not just about us - it's the team around us. We're relieved it's worked. A lot of people have come through the gate."

Their catalyst for improving their operation was a 2010 invitation by Inglewood vet Jonathan Spencer to join DairyNZ's in-calf national dairy fertility programme.

Looking back, Chris Prankerd said he would do it all again.

"The first year was really hard. The results were shocking and they were out in the public forum. But DairyNZ encouraged us and the project sponsors gave us their time."

His wife said the project had re- ignited the couple's passion for farming because they had tried new things, put to good use the information they were given, and received positive feedback on the changes they made.

In the past the couple had been hesitant to use their advisers.

"But they want to help you grow your business. Ask them the dumb questions. Use the people around you - but choose them well."

Chris Prankerd said keeping the momentum of the project going wouldn't be hard.

"We want to keep growing the business - but there aren't too many more years that I want to be in the cowshed. I'll use all the advice around me. We certainly won't stagnate. We've bought more land and we'll have more cows."

A new in-shed feeding system should also boost production.

The couple say they're proud of the improvements they've achieved during the project.

"We put ourselves out there to be challenged and criticised," Kathy Prankerd said. "We did our best. And we don't care what people think about us as farmers. We hope other people learned from our mistakes. It's been rewarding - the family has grown from it because it was a huge opportunity for us to learn from experts."

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Sons Michael and Jacob had benefited hugely. "They've learned a lot. Part of the reason for taking on the project was to help young people."

Chris Prankerd said there had been snowfalls and two dry summers during the three years of the project.

"It's taught me to how to manage the bad patches without costing production - how not to take a hit.

They had learned to farm better in dry spells. "We're more pro-active. Before, we lived in hope, thinking: 'She'll be right' and 'It'll rain tomorrow'.

"There'll always be bad weather or a drop in payout and you have to learn to farm through it."

During the project the couple marked several milestones - two children married, three grandchildren were born, they bought a 10ha block of land across the road from their farm and increased their herd from 230 to 260 cows.

Off the farm they formed a partnership with their son and his partner to buy a New Plymouth beauty therapy business.

"The skills we've learned from the focus farm are readily transferable to a small business," Kathy Prankerd said.

They've been on the farm for more than 30 years. Chris Prankerd's parents, John and Noeline, converted what was a drystock unit to a dairy farm and he began sharemilking there 34 years ago, before being joined two years later by his bride.

Now, as they plan for the future, they're completing a governance course.

"We'd love the farm to stay in the family," she said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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