Becoming self-employed and launching a 50/50 sharemilking career is a big step – one which Melissa Bryant found daunting at first.

“Running a dairy farming business has so many components to it. Dealing with budgets, cashflows, GST, as well as compliance tasks and records meant that there was a lot to get my head around,” Melissa explains.

“I have a bit of a business background but I didn’t feel 100 per cent confident I was doing everything I could to be successful. I didn’t feel like I understood it fully.”

Despite having a new baby to look after, Melissa enrolled with Primary ITO and began studying towards a Diploma in Agribusiness Management. After six years of part-time study, she’s not only completed her qualification but was named Waikato’s top agribusiness student for 2016.

Melissa and her husband, Steve, milk 170 cross-bred cows on 65ha (effective) on the side of Mount Pirongia in the Waikato. She takes over the milking when her husband is away and helps with calving, but is mainly responsible for running the financial side of the business.

She particularly enjoyed learning about taxation, investment and business planning during her Diploma – and has been able to reduce her farm’s working expenses to $1.50 per kilo of milk solids as a direct result of her study.

“That’s really helped keep our losses to a minimum when payouts have been low,” she says.

“It’s been pretty tough being 50/50 sharemilkers through low payouts and we’ve had a few dry seasons as well so it’s been really useful to have the Diploma to help navigate through the tough times.

“Having knowledge is the key. There’s no surprises. You know where your business is heading and how you’re going to get there. There’s always ups and downs but if you’re aware of things you can make changes and better decisions. If you’re not aware of the implications of your decisions it’s really hard to be successful.”

Melissa found the Diploma content was extremely practical and could be applied to her own business straight away. Learning to set budgets and develop a solid business plan has been an enormous help.

“Farming is full of things you can’t control like the dairy payout and the weather. So if you’ve got the skills to make decisions around the things you can control, you’ll have a much more positive outlook on your business.”

She admits it was difficult to fit part-time study in while looking after two young children. But having flexible class times and a supportive family who could help with childcare made all the difference.

“I got a lot out of the Diploma. I really enjoyed the classes and the tutors were exceptional. They made going to class really fun and were always happy to answer any questions. I liked meeting other students as well. They provided a lot of information from various backgrounds which was really good.”

The 36 year-old will graduate in March 2017 – the same month as her youngest child begins primary school.

“It will be great. I’m hoping to get some off-farm employment again once she goes to school in the agri-business field. I really enjoy farming and I have both the practical knowledge and the business knowledge now and I want to fully utilize those skills.”

Overall, Melissa says she would recommend the Diploma in Agribusiness Management to anyone who wants to take more control of their farm’s financial future.

“Just go for it. You’ll learn stuff you’ll use every day in your business. You won’t regret it.”

Primary ITO