Markus Woutersen is just starting out on his dairy farming career: he’s in his fourth season sharemilking on the family farm near Cambridge.
Although he is at the beginning of his farming journey his passion for farming dates back to his early childhood. “I have always wanted to farm this farm, that’s been my dream,” says Markus. “I would come home from school and milk on farms in the district five days a week and in the weekends. I was paid well for doing it, so the people that employed me really helped set me up.”
After school he headed off to Lincoln University for a couple of years and then came back home to take over the farm.
His primary goal is to maximise the farm’s outputs while keeping a firm hold on costs, “Our output is already pretty good; we are doing about 1350 kg MS/ha,” says Markus. “Over the next few years I believe we will be able to reach 1450 kg MS/ha.
“In my first three years as a sharemilker our working expenses have ranged between $1.10 and $1.26. One of my goals is to cap costs at $1-$1.10 by further increasing efficiency;
pushing production while maintaining a low cost base. It gives you options, even with the current payouts we can still do all right.”
Are smaller herds still relevant?
Markus believes smaller herds play an important part in the industry, although the definition of what is “small” may be changing.
“Small herds hold a great place in society and in the community, and they will continue, although what small is may be redefined. They are probably the most resistant to low payouts, and the most resilient to volatility, because they have lower debt and they are chiefly run by owner/operators, who generally run them to a high standard.
“For me it is about being small enough to enjoy farming, knowing your cows personally, but also being big enough to have some flexibility and being
able to delegate some tasks.
“I think you gain more skills on a smaller farm than the big farms We fix most things ourselves, which keeps costs down and also adds some variety to our day. You are better for it if you can help yourself.
“Small farms are nice, happy operations. For me the dream farm is where you are just big enough to have one person working with you.”
What has he gained from SMASH events?
Markus has a thirst for knowledge and is a firm believer in the benefit of getting off the farm to learn, both from farming professionals and other farmers. That is where SMASH fits in.
“I came to the winter SMASH conference at the end of my first season. It was really good. After that I have been to a few field days and workshops. The days are really well organised.
“I have always liked learning about farming and how to do things better, and going along to events can be quite interesting. Your standard discussion group can sometimes be a bit of a let-down, but if you get a day that has been organised, where there are good guest speakers, everyone learns a lot.
“It is a good chance to get off the farm, have a chat with mates, or make new contacts, and see how other people are going. Sometimes if things aren’t going as well as you would like them to be talking to others gives you a little bit of comfort as often everyone is experiencing the same difficulties.
“The SMASH lunches are always good, that is essential; if you have a good lunch it gives you the chance to talk to people. The events provide a great opportunity to network, I really enjoy meeting and talking to people. The collaboration in the industry is awesome, farmers are happy to share.”
He is also willing to put his own operation under the microscope as he believes it is an excellent learning opportunity. This led to him agreeing to host a SMASH field day.
“The day here was well put together by the SMASH committee and their sponsors and everyone really enjoyed it. The feedback was really good and the questions I had to answer made me think. I like the opportunities where you have to push yourself, the personal development, and getting quizzed on what you are doing. It either gives you ideas about how to do it better, or provides justification that you are doing the right thing.”
The networking at events also allows lasting relationships to form.
“Alan Syme, a farmer from Putaruru, was hanging round at the end of my field day because he was interested in finding out what the secret was to our low costs. It was quite good because I made a contact out of it and I am still in touch with him now.” Alan and Markus have regular phone catch-ups, and Alan has organized a farm visit to the Woutersen farm for his local discussion group, which will have a ripple effect, extending the learning further.
The unique nature of SMASH events is helping this young farmer to gain the knowledge and support to ensure he has a bright future ahead in farming.