Dreaming of a farming fortune

19:45, Jul 22 2012

My days pass in a blur of milking, cleaning up, calf rearing, feeding out, sorting out calved cows and their babies, shifting young stock, milking, cleaning up . . . Spring is certainly full on, especially for the dairy farmer trying to get this all done on their own.

It doesn't take much to upset the apple cart. I currently have a drain that needs unblocking, a dead cow to bury and I know there is a water leak somewhere up towards paddock 15 . . . And did I mention the flat tyre on the calfateria?

The amount of effort and organisation this all takes is phenomenal. Little wonder there are dishes piling up in the sink and piles of clothes at various stages of the washing cycle languishing around the house.

Breakfast was at 1.04pm the other day and the latest time in from the cow shed was just before 9pm. I hope all this hard work is worth it but I feel a little bit crushed and apprehensive about my future in dairy farming. Sometimes hard work is not a guarantee of success, although in my book it should be.

When the population is exploding and the world is hungry for good nutrition, being in the market with an agricultural commodity must be a good thing. But I am afraid that, as history has shown us, the dream of making your fortune out of farming is exactly that, just a dream.

Constant 14-hour days make you feel tired, an easy time for negativity to creep in, but correct me if I'm wrong, milk is not valued. And as soon as it looks like it might become more valuable, suddenly there are a whole lot more clowns in the ring, trying to clip their ticket on the milk. New Zealand dairy farmers have just opened the door to corporate shareholders - people who will invest and add value to the milk, which by itself is perceived as a basic commodity. But it isn't. Milk by itself is the perfect food and it could stand alone in its basic form to feed hungry people, people who don't have the means to afford milk products in their value-added form.


If milk is not valued until value is added to it by people who have invested in the milk after it leaves the farm gate then the returns to the farmer will be minimal. If that farmer is a shareholder then they will be able to reap the benefits of their value-added investment in the form of a dividend.

However, if that same farmer owner is blocking their sharemilker from a share of the dividend then that sharemilker is working for the milk price only, which is not valued.

Somewhere along the line, corporate thinking has forgotten where the milk actually comes from - cows, land and hard work - not shares. The milk price cannot be undervalued because it makes up the income of the farms that make it all happen.

In my experience, these farms are in dire need of investment. They are not rich places. The housing and facilities on many dairy farms that I have worked on are a shoddy testament to lack of investment, probably due to lack of funds.

For this to change the farmers need to keep a grip on the investment chain so that the milk price is not undervalued and when value is added to their product the returns come back to the farms and are not siphoned off to line the pockets of wealthy investors who have come in from the side.

I'm afraid the profits from my hard work have already been hi-jacked.

Waikato Times