How James got the real numbers in focus

TAKING on the challenge of being the Dairy Tas Focus Farm has been a game changer in many ways for dairy farmer James Greenacre. It was a suggestion from a friend in New South Wales that first convinced Mr Greenacre to consider becoming involved with the Focus Farm project.

Mr Greenacre and his wife, Sophie, are part of an equity partnership with Rob and Jo Bradley at the Rosemount Agriculture enterprise near Cressy. The business was involved with the Focus Farm project over two seasons, starting in 2020. Looking back, Mr Greenacre said the Focus Farm program had made a significant impact on their business.

Initially, Mr Greenacre said he had some clear goals about what he hoped to achieve including cutting cost of production to $4 a kilogram of milk solids, reducing grain usage across the herd and improving pasture utilisation. “We actually managed to cut our grain usage by 500kg a cow so that’s been really good and we saved about 600 tonnes of grain last year,” he said.

Improving farm systems and reducing key man risks were also goals. “We wanted to take a bit of the risk of me being the main person out of it a bit, so we’ve managed to achieve that too,” he said. Having access to a range of professional consultants as part of the project to provide advice on different parts of the business was a major benefit.

Mr Greenacre said one of the most important things he had learnt over the two years was the importance of measuring production and costs to get a clear picture of how the business is performing. “One of the major learnings I’ve got out of it is the important of measuring and recording what’s happening on your farm,” he said.

“As dairy farmers we’re really fortunate in the sense that we milk the cows twice a day and feed the cows grain twice a day, but we quite often don’t measure it. So, one of the things we’ve got into the habit of is measuring production at every milking and looking at that data to track how we’re going.” The farm runs 1300 cows in two herds, producing on average about 465kg of milk solids a cow, using about 700kg of grain.

“When you record all the information, instead of it being a subjective thing like program, you’re dealing with the real numbers and being open is when you get the most out of it.”

Mr Greenacre said a willingness to take on advice and try new things was also essential. “The one thing if you’re going to do it is you need to be prepared to change and take on new ideas and actually implement them,” he said. “If you don’t, I don’t think you’ll get as much out of it.” new systems such as QR codes for trouble shooting on farm.

After being involved with the Focus Farm program, Mr Greenacre said he would recommend it to other farmers. “It’s been really beneficial for us,” he said. “When my friend from NSW said he could put a dollars and cents value of being the focus farm, I thought that sounded like a bit too good to be true but actually now, I think he was right.”

Looking at the financial and production backbone of the business has been a crucial part. “The one thing I’ve learnt is there’s pub talk numbers and then there’s real numbers,” Mr Greenacre said. “Whilst we may not have achieved our goal of a $4 cost of production our farm is more resilient because of the Focus Farm Project. “There’s no point talking in pub talk numbers and that’s one thing about the ‘hey, this spring isn’t very good’, we can actually look at the data and work out what’s happening and compare it to previous seasons,” he said.

Mr Greenacre said while increasing input costs had not seen them achieve the $4 a kilogram cost of production, he said being able to monitor their cost of production accurately was critical. “I think a part of it is just really getting to know your farm system really well,” he said. This has been helped by the fact we’ve had so many external people look at the farm system and question why we do things.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really good to know what your drivers are and the tweaks you can make easily and quickly. “When you’re just working on your own, you can get a bit like you’ve got blinkers on but getting outside perspectives gives you new ideas.”

Each week Mr Greenacre now does a pasture walk and sets up the grazing allocation for the week. That information is entered into a spreadsheet which can be accessed through an app by all the staff, so everyone knows where the cows are going each day.

“All the paddocks are on GPS in an app, so we know that the fence reel is getting put in the right spot because all our staff use the same app, so they can all measure the right amount of hectares. Things like this have reduced our key man risk,” he said. On a personal level, Mr Greenacre said he had benefited significantly from being involved.

“I’ve just got so much out of it,” he said. “We’re so fortunate to be in the dairy industry where you can pick up the phone and ring up other experienced farmers and talk about things that help each other out. “We had a really good support group of seven or eight other farmers, and I’ve learnt so much off them.”

“The one thing if you’re going to do it is you need to be prepared to change and take on new ideas and actually implement them,” he said. “If you don’t, I don’t think you’ll get as much out of it.”