Never too busy to gain dairy business expertise

It may have taken almost 12 years but Rotorua dairy farmer Andrea Winmill says chipping away at a Diploma in Agribusiness Management is the smartest decision she ever made.

“If I quit I would have never forgiven myself. I kept thinking ‘this challenge is just short-term. When I finish I’ll have this diploma for life’.”

Given the recent volatility and low dairy payouts, Andrea credits her diploma studies for giving her the financial skills she and her husband have needed to survive.

Neither had a background in farming when they first decided to get into sheep and beef, followed by dairy in 2001. They moved from Gisborne to Te Puke and spent several years working their way up the ladder to variable order sharemilking.

“That’s when I realised I needed to learn more about the business side of things instead of just looking at it like a job,” Andrea explains. “I was the girl who always hung around the guys at BBQs picking their brains for information about dairying. I was so engrossed and just wanted to know as much as possible so that’s why I decided to look at training options.”

In 2005 Andrea contacted a Primary ITO Training Adviser who persuaded her that the Diploma in Agribusiness Management was the qualification she needed to propel her career forward.

“I was nervous but once I sunk my teeth into it I couldn’t get enough. I was able to relate a lot of what we were learning on the farm to what we were learning in the classroom and vice versa.”

But trying to juggle milking, fulltime work on the farm, two young kids and study soon took its toll. “Something had to give and it couldn’t be the farm or the children, so I had to put the study on pause.” Instead Andrea put all her assignments and questions into a word document and slowly chipped away at it whenever she had an hour to spare.

Her Primary ITO Tutor also encouraged her to persevere, offering to mark her assignments whenever Andrea was able to submit them. “He gave me that opportunity to make it flexible for me to continue which is what got me through.”

In total Andrea completed 18 papers and finally finished her Agribusiness Diploma earlier this year. “I just took it in little chunks and every little bit was progress.”

During her study Andrea and her husband progressed to 50/50 sharemilking and moved to a 785ha property in Waikite Valley for Tumunui Lands Trust, just outside of Rotorua where they currently milk 1200 cows.

She says the financial and human resource skills she learned during her diploma studies have played an enormous role in their successful career progression. Being able to prepare business proposals and plans, set clear financial goals, and implement useful policies and procedures have helped accelerate growth and strengthen their business.

“One of the biggest weaknesses in the dairy industry is HR. A lot of brilliant dairy farmers have no idea how to manage staff or look after people. Because we work long hours and live in each other’s pockets on dairy farms it’s important to get the best out of people so they, in turn, will work hard for you and your business 

“With 1200 cows, close to 800ha, four fulltime and two casual staff, you can’t get away with just winging it. Knowing how to manage things like timesheets, rosters, job descriptions, contracts, policies and procedures and maintenance registers has been a huge help.”

Andrea says her fellow Primary ITO diploma students were of varied ages and backgrounds including dairy, lifestyle block owners and even a goat farmer.

“I don’t think there was any topic that I walked away from thinking ‘I didn’t need to know that’. I always found it useful and you covered everything you need to know from animal health to how to manage physical resources. Everything.”

Andrea says one of the things she loves most about the dairy industry is people’s willingness to share knowledge and help each other succeed. “When you sign up for the diploma you’ll be in a class full of people with the same goal as you, and everybody helps each other get the information they need.”

Her advice to other potential students is to always keep an eye on the big picture and stick with it. “If it’s too hard, too big or you don’t have enough time, just break it down into small pieces and it’s not that overwhelming. You will get there and it’s absolutely worth it.”

Primary ITO