Gippsland dairy farmers Mike and Sarah O’Brien know day-to-day farm life can distract from progressing the “ideas swirling around” in your head.
For this reason, they are happy to have created clarity and direction for their goals through participating in the Our Farm, Our Plan program.
The program, developed by Dairy Australia with support from Gardiner Dairy Foundation and Dairy NZ, helps farmers clarify business and personal goals, prioritise action and manage uncertainty.
“The biggest thing Sarah and I got out of the Our Farm, Our Plan process was that it created discussion of what we both wanted,” Mike said.
“Participating in Our Farm, Our Plan has given us clarity; and clarity gives us direction.”
The O’Briens started managing Wilfour Farm, Denison, in 2012, employed by absentee owners Mark and Lisa Wilms, and Andrew and Caroline Balfour.
They became sharefarmers in 2014 and purchased the second half of the Wilfour herd on July 1, 2021.
“We have a very open business relationship with Wilfour,” Sarah said.
“Our growth phase was on track but the Our Farm, Our Plan process helped Mike and I clarify the best way to go about it for us.”
The couple live at Wilfour’s 130ha Denison farm in the Macalister Irrigation District with their three children aged 10, 13 and 16.
They milk 320 cows with a spring calving herd, and have a 25-a-side swing-over dairy with automatic cup removers.
They participated in Our Farm, Our Plan in 2020, documenting their Plan on a Page after a series of GippsDairy group sessions (mostly online due to COVID-19 lockdowns).
Like their program peers, the O’Briens receive one-on-one follow-up support from a consultant and regional extension officer to help keep their plan on track.
At the heart of Mike and Sarah’s plan is: farm ownership; a profitable business; trained staff; professional development; environmental sustainability; a farm legacy for their children; contributing to the community; and a lifestyle which is enjoyable, including date nights and family holidays.
“We are not just thinking about the dreams at the end, but to enjoy the journey,” Mike said.
“Having a profitable business allows us to have family holidays, to give back to the community, and to enjoy having good staff.”
Mike and Sarah place great value on the role staff play in pursuing their plan and view their staff as an asset to their business.
They employ a full-time trainee who is studying a Certificate III in Agriculture, and two casual employees, including daughter Zoe, 16.
“The whole industry is screaming out for staff and a lot of farmers are struggling to fill gaps,” Sarah said.
“We place value on our staff by paying well, providing a good work environment, training on-farm and Dairy Australia off-farm professional development opportunities, and regular occupational health and safety meetings where they can have important input.”
Developing their staff has allowed the couple time to lock-in regular days off and family holidays, their own professional training, and commitments to industry groups and community committees.
“Investing in us as a husband and wife, not just as business partners, is very important,” Sarah said.
“It’s nice for our children that we are now able to make time available – and stick to it – for family commitments.”
Mike is completing a specialised nutrition program through Dairy Australia, and Sarah is looking into a Diploma in Human Resources or Business Management.
Six months since completing their plan, they are ready to update the document having “pulled apart some of their farm figures” during a recent business analysis course.
“We feel like we have got a routine happening with the lifestyle goals, so it [holidays and date nights] needs to continue but it doesn’t need to be on our plan,” Sarah said.
“We want to replace that goal with something from our farm figures to really focus on for next season.”
The O’Briens encouraged farmers in every phase of their business to participate in the Our Farm, Our Plan program.
“Farmers get so busy on the farm and have all these ideas swirling around, but Our Farm, Our Plan helped us to stop and strategise about where we are, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there,” Sarah said.
“For where we are, and the industry as a whole, this program is gold.”