Business South Feb / March 2022

26 | Covid curve ball forces farm rethink Virginia Wright West Range Station’s Derek and Bronwyn Chamberlain – firm believers in realistic business plans. REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT - SOUTHLAND West Range Station It would be nice to be able to say that not much has changed for Derek and Bronnie Chamberlain in the last couple of years but, thanks to Covid, it wouldn’t strictly be true. The combination in autumn last year of a nationwide lockdown, the North Island and Canterbury in a drought and the onset of winter, undermined their normal source of income and led to some serious re-evaluation of how they were managing risk. “We kill the majority of our bulls between March and May,” explains Bronwyn. “Covid started in April and the freezing works went to minimum capacity because of Covid staffing issues, and we went into June with 1600 head of bulls that we had no feed for.” They ended up having to dump 1200 calves onto a market that was very flat, at a lesser price than what they had paid for them six months earlier. “We had thought as farmers that our risk was cushioned but suddenly we were exposed in a way we weren’t at all ready for,” says Bronwyn. They emerged from the worst financial year they’d ever had, thanks to a Covid curve ball they weren’t prepared for, with a determination never to be caught out in that way again. With the help of the Regional Business Partnership initiative, they accessed funds and were helped to find the right fit for advice. They started working on a detailed business plan with Invercargill accountants Malloch McClean and ASB Invercargill. “We were in a bad way trying to come up with a plan that would return us to some sort of status quo for the next one to five years, while also trying to find food for hundreds of mouths that weren’t supposed to be on the farm,” says Bronwyn. “It helped us approach things in a rational way which helped take the pressure off. We needed a farm plan that spread our risk, so we’ve done that and changed the age-groups of cattle classes we fatten so we’re sending a load away every week of the same weight range rather than the majority over two or three months.“ With some Covid-19 Support funding from the government to help offset the cost they also started working with the Farmax programme which allows them to monitor everything on the farm from how much grass is growing to the number of mouths to be fed and everything in between, together with how much it all costs. The programme takes all the information and turns it into possible scenarios, projecting decisions made now into how they may look in the near or distant future. “It’s like a farm advisor on a software package,” says Bronwyn, “and the scenarios take into account the changes that are happening all the time in farming.” Bronwyn gives the current example of many farmers not needing to put hoggets out on grazing, because of excess feed around. The Chamberlains would generally use the hoggets as a tool to keep their pasture under control for their core business of fattening stock. ”The Farmax programme gives you the option of putting in buying something else instead, like ewes, and it shows you how that rolls through in the next three to four months, with their demand on the feed wedge, price margin attainable, and timeframes till cull dates,” she says “That’s what we used to get us out of a situation that was pretty rough at the time. It’s been quite a challenge but when you know every day what you need to be aiming for it’s satisfying as well. It’s made life a lot more rewarding actually, put the fun back into farming.” Because of their own experience Bronwyn is a firm believer in realistic business plans. “What we learnt from Covid was that our environmental goals and planning were all very well but the actual business-side of things needs more of our attention. “We’re not afraid of the new legislation being discussed in relation with the Land and Water and the He Waka Eke Noa for climate proposals because in my eyes having to do farm plans is going to be a good business move for everyone, as long as it’s realistic and achievable.” N 152 Main Street, Otautau • Phone (03) 225 8516 OTAUTAU TRACTOR AND MACHINERY 2013 LTD PUMPING PROUD SUPPORTERS OF WEST RANGE STATION WaterForce provides industry-leading knowledge, technical expertise and experience. Working with our local farmers, we provide integrated water management solutions to make your land more productive and sustainable. For the latest, most experienced advice and 24/7 after-sales support, contact us at your local WaterForce branch. 0800 436 723 | STOCKWATER IRRIGATION