Shifting from investment banking in London to dairy farming in the Waikato has delivered big rewards for Andrew and Michelle McPherson
They won the Waikato Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year and have been 50:50 sharemilking for brothers Michael and Donald Macky on Paterangi Road, Te Awamutu for the last three years. They’re milking 500 cows, producing 185,000kg milksolids (MS), reduced from their target of 200,000kg MS because of the drought.
The couple both come from dairy farm backgrounds in the Waikato, but it was the banking industry in Auckland where they met. After they married they travelled to London together and worked in investment banking for three years. Coming home they both wanted the family lifestyle and opportunities that dairy farming could provide.
Andrew got a farming assistant job at Te Puke then moved to Te Awamutu where he later had the opportunity to manage the dairy operation on a lease farm for the owner.
The couple then sharemilked 230 cows for three years before moving to another position milking 380 cows, where they stayed for the same amount of time.
“The strategy has always been to move, pay off that debt, move, pay off that debt,” said Michelle.
The couple are weighing up options of buying a small farm and putting a manager on it, or going into an equity partnership.
They have three sons, Callum, 9, Liam, 8, and Jacob, 4, and would like to stay in the Waikato around family and friends. With Jacob heading to school next year, Michelle thought it was a good timing to learn more about the on-farm part of the business. She’s always been in charge of the calf rearing, paperwork and finances while Andrew has looked after the hands-on operation.
“We worked well as a team in the competition,” Andrew said. “We both had our five areas of expertise and we were learning from each other.”
“We put hundreds of hours into our presentation over the summer holiday. We were 100% focused on this and it has paid off,” Michelle said.
Looking after and training staff is one of Andrew and Michelle’s key priorities and they both credit good staff to their farming success. They’ve recruited Argentinean veterinarians on working visas for the past few seasons and say they’ve been a great asset, and keep animal health costs down at $60/cow compared with the industry standard for sharemilkers at $105/cow.
They employ two full-time staff year round, which is probably half a labour unit too much, but it works better than organising casual staff, Andrew said. He and the two staff members do three-week rosters, each getting every third weekend off.
They also took out the Effluent and Irrigation Design First Time Entrant Award, the DairyNZ Human Resources Award and the Westpac Business Performance Award.
Second place went to Taupiri 50:50 sharemilker Aaron Price, who also won the Blackman Spargo Legal Audit Award, the Honda Farm Safety and Health Award, the LIC Recording and Productivity Award, the Meridian Energy Farm Environment Award and the Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award.
Third place went to Otorohanga 50:50 sharemilkers Dan and Michelle Brice.
Mark and Cathy Nicholas of Tokoroa won the Ecolab Dairy Hygiene Award and the Federated Farmers Leadership Award.