A new program from Dairy Australia is helping dairy farmers to document their long-term goals on a single page and put plans in place to achieve them.

‘Our Farm, Our Plan’ has been developed by Dairy Australia with support from Dairy NZ and the Gardiner Foundation and is designed to help farmers answer some of the big questions, clarify business and personal goals, and prioritise what to do next.

For a 12-month period, farmers receive support to put their plan on a page and get everyone in their business on the same page.

Dairy Australia farm performance lead Neil Webster said research had shown that when goals were documented people’s commitment increased and they were more likely to carry through with the actions needed to achieve their goals.

“This process is applied in commercial organisations across the world because it makes things achievable and visible,” he said.

“Our Farm, Our Plan gets people thinking longer-term and helps them to clarify their goals and prioritise what to do next.

“It also gets everyone in the business to be clear about and, hopefully, agree about their goals.”

The program is freely available for dairy farmers and includes two key resources – the Farm Fitness Checklist and the Quickplan – which farmers will work through in a combination of group sessions and one-on-one sessions with consultants.

Farmers or discussion groups interested in participating in Our Farm, Our Plan and getting their Plan on a Page should contact their Dairy Australia regional team or visit the Dairy Australia website.

Setting goals important for young couple

Dairy Australia’s ‘Our Farm, Our Plan’ program has given Chris and Alicia Drew an opportunity to lay the foundation for their business and personal goals early in their dairying career.

Chris and Alicia returned to farm with Chris’s parents Peter and Alison four years ago where they milk 400 cows in a split-calving system at Nyora in Victoria’s south Gippsland.

“I worked as an electrician and Alicia works as a paramedic,” Chris said.

“We could have stayed in those jobs forever and lived a pretty cruisy life with weekends off, but we wanted to get ahead and grow our assets, which is something you can do quite quickly in the dairy industry.”

Chris and Alicia were invited to be part of the Our Farm, Our Plan pilot in early 2019, an offer which they eagerly accepted.

The opportunity to think long term about what they wanted to achieve and how they would achieve it was a big factor in them getting involved, Chris said.

“When we decided to return to the dairy industry we had ideas about what we wanted to achieve but never wrote anything down, but from the discussions we had as part of the Our Farm, Our Plan process we came up with four focus areas which encompassed what we wanted to achieve,” he said.

“They were financial growth, job satisfaction, lifestyle and family.

“From that, we were able to map out how we would achieve those goals and put short and long-term plans in place to achieve them.”

Chris said the Our Farm, Our Plan process had been the catalyst for much bigger discussions about the future, such as buying and leasing land, understanding what they could afford and talking to banks.

“Often as farmers it’s easy to get caught up too much in the day-to-day running of the farm, without taking time to think about the bigger picture,” he said.

“But each day becomes a week which becomes a month, a season, a year and all of a sudden years have passed and you haven’t made any real progress.

“Not enough people actually plan their outcomes and they just end up rolling with whatever ends up happening.

“It’s also forced us to make decisions not only about our farming future but what we want our lifestyle to look like.

“For us, we have found using both the Quickplan and Farm Fitness Checklist provided as part of Our Farm, Our Plan has been very beneficial, and putting our plan on a page means we’ve got it down on paper as a reference point.

“The workshops were great and were run in the middle of the day so you can squeeze it in between milkings, and the farm visit was done at a time that suited us.

“I think that small investment in time will be very valuable for us in the long run. We now have a vision of what we want our future to look like and have achievable steps in place to make it become a reality.”

Goals refresher a worthwhile exercise

The opportunity to revisit and refresh goals they had set earlier in their dairying career as part of Dairy Australia’s Our Farm, Our Plan program was too good to pass up for Darryl and Trudi Hammond.

The Hammonds farm at Buln Buln in Victoria’s Gippsland where they milk 430 cows in a pasture-based system.

They had been involved in a program similar to Our Farm, Our Plan with a private company about 15 years ago, which they saw as a very valuable experience in documenting goals and the processes they would implement to achieve them.

“Our Farm, Our Plan has been an opportunity for us to reinforce where we are going on our dairying journey and how we plan to get there,” Mr Hammond said.

“Since our original plan 15 years ago, our goals had changed slightly in some aspects and a lot in others due to factors such as milk price, seasonal variability and our own health.”

Broadly, the Hammonds’ goals revolved around themes of financial security, family, having time away from the farm and remaining committed to the same ideals.

“There’s no point in me wanting to grow the business if Trudi wants to get out, which highlights the importance of both of us being on the same page,” Mr Hammond said.

“The program has made both Trudi and I realise that despite how tough the last 18 months have been, we actually really enjoy what we do.”

Being around like-minded couples in the industry as part of Our Farm, Our Plan – some older and approaching retirement, some younger and just starting out in dairying – has been a rewarding experience for the Hammonds.

“It is nice to get off the farm, be challenged and be immersed among other like-minded farmers,” Mr Hammond said.

“For us, we are probably at the midpoint in our journey as both of us are about 50 years old.

“We have just invested heavily in a new dairy and bought more land and being involved in Our Farm, Our Plan made Trudi and I sit down and put things on paper again.

“Yes, we are going ahead in leaps and bounds, but the program has also made us have other discussions and put an exit plan in place should any major issues arise.”

Mr Hammond said there was something in the program for everyone, no matter where they were at in their dairy career.

“Some farmers might be floundering and not feeling good about the business in which case I think it’s a good thing to sit down and have an open and frank discussion,” he said.

“They don’t delve dollar for dollar into the business or anything like that and there are people involved with the program who know the industry inside out.

“It would help anyone in that situation to set a direction.

“Alternatively, for other farmers who might be feeling more motivated it would help them to set goals and put plans in place to achieve them.”