If you’re wondering who put the ‘business’ in agribusiness, look no further than Merrigum-local and restaurateur turned dairy farmer, Jane Snell.

“I am originally from the city; my parents are restaurateurs – we love our food, wine and fine dining. I managed one of their restaurants, which meant I looked after the business, HR and training side.”

“I now live with my husband, and we are share farming as part of a succession plan. I’ve found it easy to transition to share farming because of my business background. I’m certainly more interested in that part of dairy farming and currently studying an Associate Degree in Agribusiness,” Jane said.

Jane has recently returned from the 2024 Gardiner Foundation New Zealand Study Tour. Beginning in Christchurch, Jane and eleven other dairy farmers and dairy industry professionals visited New Zealand’s South Island to explore its dairy sector and develop their leadership skills.

She said one of her biggest takeaways from the tour was how much the New Zealand dairy industry relies on data and meeting targets.

“They are so into their KPIs and ROIs. If they are not meeting their targets, it signifies that they need to do something about it immediately. New Zealand are such an export country for dairy and their profit margins are much slimmer than in Australia,” Jane said.

“In Australia, we’re guaranteed a milk price, so we don’t tend to rely on the data as much. The biggest difference I noticed was they are more business-first, whereas we are more farmer-first.”

“Again, this is due to their reliance on exports. For example, if Fonterra, who has 85% of the milk pool, respond to a market change, then overnight the industry must follow.”

“We can take a lot from this. Responding to the market is an enticing way to modernise farms and be more sustainable due to consumer demand. We will eventually go there as an industry, so it is important to get this insight and see how they are managing it across the Tasman.”

Leesa Chen, who also participated in the study tour, also noted the data-driven nature of the New Zealand dairy industry.

“It was very much regulation and export orientated, everyone’s thinking about what their global customers are expecting and how to uphold that competitive advantage,” Leesa said.

“When we visited the demo farms and looked at research output, the focus was on how it can be applicable and how it could be commercialised. There was a data point for everything.”

Leesa is a strategy advisor for a leading dairy processor. She has advised across the end-to-end dairy supply chain from processors through to retailers and key government departments. Leesa said the trip reenergised her view of the industry.

“The challenge after participating in a leadership program is then thinking about how you can apply the learnings to your day to day. In terms of my role and strategy, it has given me time to reflect.”

“One thing I did appreciate is how they don’t refer to their industry as ‘agriculture’ or ‘dairy’ – it’s ‘food and fibre’ and people are at the heart of that. They are very conscious about the reputation of farming and very proactive about collaborating across sectors.”

While Jane and Leesa come from different parts of the industry, they both benefited from seeing a different side of farm management. Leesa said it helped her better understand how farmers think, and Jane picked up a few ideas to implement on farm.

“I’m buying a plate meter. We’re in Northern Victoria, so very dependent on water and soil, and I really learned the importance of pasture management on the trip,” Jane said.

“We were originally a 100-cow farm, now we’re at over 400. I now need to know how much pasture there is, do I need to supplement their feed and what’s the quality of the feed. Seeing how they are doing this in New Zealand gave me direction on how to apply this on our farm.”