Huntly Road Dairies - Dairy Business of 2015

November 2016

Innovation and team work win Dairy Business of the Year for Duncan and Anne-Marie Wells

Duncan and Anne-Marie Wells of Huntly Road Dairies were the supreme winners in 2015 for Dairy Business of the Year. Duncan comes from a dairying background at Dargaville and is a trained electrician. Anne-Marie is from Bath in the UK, and has a degree in maths and computing. She had never stepped foot on a farm before meeting Duncan.

They met in India while travelling in 2007 and married in 2009. The couple have three children: Aidan, Liam and Hannah.

The Wells are 50% equity shareholders in Huntly Road Dairies, where they have a 181ha milking platform with 613 cows milking this year. Their farming partnership was formed in 2011 with Barry and Helen Pannet and Doug and Lois Spence.

As well as winning the Dairy Business of the Year award, the Wells won the award for best Otago farm performance, and were the finalists with the lowest environmental impact.

They achieved a below average cost of production of $3.78 and an above average milk production on an 84% pasture diet. It’s a medium to low input system, and they add in wheat, which is fed through the shed, and buy in grass silage. They grow turnips and fodder beet for summer and swedes are fed in autumn.

The cows are wintered off the farm. This year they were grazed just across the road, wintering on fodderbeet and kale.

The Wells have exemplary pasture management with a harvest of 15.7tDM/ha, and high milk production at $257/tDM cost of feed consumed. They generated an excellent operating profit margin across two seasons.

The competition used data from the 2013/14 season. There have been no major system changes since then in response to the reduced milksolids price, apart from tweaking costs and maintaining production levels. “Our average cost of production has reduced,” says Duncan.

When the farming partnership began on the property it was milking 280 cows. Cow numbers have increased since, then necessitating the construction is a 54 bail rotary shed and the installation of a $200,000 effluent system which can store three months of effluent, which is around a million litres.

They also have an impact pond, which stores four days’ worth of effluent. This pond has a traffic light system on it which Duncan designed: green means not too full, orange means irrigation needs to happen soon, and red means irrigate now. About 30% of the farm is irrigated with effluent, but this is the only irrigation they have. They plan to increase this area.

Taieri Plain soils are fertile and rich silt loams which hold nutrient levels well. As a result, their nitrogen leaching rates are surprisingly low.

They have a relatively low rainfall, but it’s spread evenly. “We are fortunate with our location and environment, it does suit dairying, and parts of our farm have been milking cows for nearly 100 years,” says Duncan.

Anne-Marie does all the office and administration work for the farm, and brings strong business skills to their partnership. It’s a very complementary set of skills and it strengthens up their business.

They use Cash Manager and Ace Payroll, and lots of spreadsheets to monitor milksolids, as well as costs.

“I am always reviewing my budgets and questioning: why have we spent this or why haven’t we spent on this. It makes quite a difference keeping on track and keeping costs where they need to be.”

Governance of the farm is critical to the success of their business. They meet with their business partners three times a year, and these meetings are formal, with an agenda, and also attended by their bank manager and accountant.

Duncan says “We go through every part of the business that is important to talk about, so if there is a looming problem, everyone gets to know about it. If we strongly feel there needs to be money spend on an aspect of the farm, we put it on the agenda and have a robust discussion. Then Anne-Marie makes sure it gets done and the money gets spent.”

Anne-Marie says the bank manager and accountant are active participants in the meetings and they know the Wells want to be pushing the business along. “It makes quite a difference.”

When asked why they won the competition, they say “We don’t think we are doing anything special and we really didn’t expect to win”. Duncan says he farms with a fair bit of instinct, rather than having a degree behind him.

They have a good herd of cows, and have always liked the LIC approach to genetics in striving for efficient crossbred cows.

And with a good farm, good soils and a great partnership, they are all set for the future.