Aaron and Tania’s story
From a young age Aaron Robertson knew he wanted to go farming. He grew up in town but visiting his grandfather in the country set the seal on his career choice. “I always had a thing for being outside,” recalls Aaron. “When I met Tania we had a go at goat farming for a while, and then bull leasing, but neither were quite right, so we decided to go dairying and we haven’t stopped since.”
The challenges of sharemilking suit this couple to a tee. “Everything you do out there affects you 100 %,” says Aaron. “So, if you do it right you reap the rewards. It goes the other way too. if you make a mistake it is all on you; you learn and you carry on. It has its moments but I wouldn’t chuck it in.”
Aaron and Tania are in their fifth season 50:50 sharemilking, near Walton in the Waikato, on the Scott family farm which has been in the family for almost 100 years. Doug Scott, the owner, is now in a rest home but he still makes occasional visits. “When Doug comes he talks about what happened 40 or 50 years ago which is really cool,” says Aaron. “The farm has a real history. You aren’t just farming someone’s investment you are farming someone’s life.
“It’s a good little farm; it’s right in the middle of a good area so it has really good potential.”
Why a smaller herd?
Aaron and Tania like the size of their farm business and the flexibility it offers them. “I don’t want to increase our cow numbers,” says Aaron. “I enjoy having a one-man unit and I don’t want to have staff.”
In order to make the budget work Tania works off-farm during the quieter part of the season. ”It can be difficult at times,” says Aaron. “But I can always call on family and friends to help and the parents-in-law live close by which is really helpful. And because we go once-a-day from Christmas we have time to do things with the kids, and we can be there to pick them up from the school bus.
“It is tough for a small farm to hang in there, but you’ve got to work smarter.”
What have they gained from SMASH events?
It has taken Aaron and Tania a while to find the time to get to a SMASH event but now they are sold on them. “We were getting pamphlets in the mail and we had always intended going, so we thought “Let’s make a day of it”. When we got there we thought, “This is the best thing”.
“We have kind of gone off discussion groups because they tend to just look after our little district. Discussion groups are mainly people checking up on what the neighbours are doing whereas SMASH events are different, we get a lot more from them. I wholeheartedly loved it. It is good getting out of the area too.”
When Aaron and Tania are out of their home area they find that people tend to be more open with each other. “They talk to us because they are not our neighbours,” says Aaron. “And we can talk to them because they don’t know us. Going out of the area you can drop your guard down and actually talk to someone without being judged too much. I wholeheartedly loved it.”
Aaron and Tania had big problems with facial eczema last year, in fact the situation got so bad that the pet food phone number became the first one to appear on Aaron’s speed dial.
However, since then they have been to a SMASH event in Reporoa which focussed on preventing facial eczema and now they have a comprehensive management plan. “It was really good to talk to Emma Cuttance, the guest speaker there, she was the most on-to-it person when it comes to one subject. It was well worth the trip. It helped us to decide where we were going.
“We went with zinc bullets early. We bought them through FarmSource using a spread payment and we got a sharp price. People said it was really expensive but when you are rolling out pet food once a week you can justify spending a bit more money. The water system wasn’t working and we can’t drench; at the end of the day it had to be the bullets, and hopefully it has worked. So now we have had no issues and I’ve talked to a few guys that have had a bad run. Just say we have saved 4 cows, that pays for the bullets straight away, so we’re happy. Not losing those cows was a huge financial benefit for us. We were able to make sure that we invested in the right thing; we didn’t just have a stab in the dark with it. And it was good to talk to other people that had the same problem that we had.”
Should SMASH continue?
Aaron believes there is a real place for SMASH in the future. “The smaller farms are the backbone of the dairy industry and they need support, the big guys can look after themselves,” he says. “There are a heap of DairyNZ haters out there because their levy comes out of their cheque before they even look at it, but you can get them along to things that their levy has paid for and then they get to see the benefit from it.”
And he believes SMASH is hitting the mark in the way it operates too, with its family feel. “It needs to stay as it is now, without getting too huge,” he says.
He also appreciates the support SMASH gives to the local community. “At the Reporoa event the local playcentre turned up with casseroles for lunch, it was awesome!”