“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future”.
This John F Kennedy quote rings especially true for us as we break into 2021. Last year was a year like no other in many ways, but in saying that, so was the year before and the year before that, and so on. However, for us personally, the change has been momentous and a year of firsts. The purchase of my first e-bike (and they say it’s not a sign of getting old, it’s a sign of wisdom!), the purchase of our first residential property, and the move off the farm for the very first time, to name a few. Yes, off the farm. Moved, relocated, call it what you like, for the very first time in my life, I am no longer living on a dairy farm. From childhood right through until the 25th of May 2020, I have always lived surrounded by paddocks, cows and near a farm dairy. But not anymore. Mind you, I hasten to add that the move wasn’t to an inner-city apartment or to a house at the beach, that would have been way too radical. We do still have an RD mailing address and there are still paddocks and cows on one side of us…but more of this later. Why the change you might ask??
It all began back in October 2019. Sam, our contract milker at the time, decided that from the first of June the following year he would be looking at new career options outside of the dairy industry. We had had a loose succession plan in place with him and Alice which involved them becoming involved as equity partners over the next five or so years. We were to stay in our house, and they would remain in the cottage, which was adequate for their needs. This, however, all changed overnight with the announcement of his new career move. AAArrrrggghhhh!!! What to do?? I couldn’t take over, I was too involved off farm in real estate and other things to go back to full-time farming. In fact, I was too busy to even do part-time farming, to be honest.
So, then we discussed the option of Bev taking over running the farm. That was quite a brief discussion….. Other options that were discussed, and quickly eliminated, included things like grazing heifers, leasing the farm, even selling the farm. None of these appealed as I still see myself as a farmer and I can’t be a farmer without a farm, now can I? The obvious answer was to employ another contract milker and journey with him/her until they fully got to “know the ropes” so to speak.
Then, out of the blue, call it fate, or luck, or blessing, or whatever you like, on the very same day, I got this unexpected call from my old mate, ex-farm manager, Bernard Kelly. Yes, the Bernard that featured in many a blog a few years back! The reason for the call? Well, we did discuss current milksolids production, the Irish football results, and the implications of Brexit to Northern Ireland, but, most importantly, Bernard wanted info on a farm he was looking at as an equity partnership option. I shared some of my thoughts then suddenly had a lightbulb moment. Now some of you may regularly have these, but for me this is not often the case! “Hang on”, I said, “maybe you need to come and see us! Things are changing here, and we may be able to hatch a plan that can only be good for Irish/Swiss/Kiwi relations”! The rest is now history. Bev and I got together with Bernard and Jo to see if we could pave a future together. This conversation took about as long as the one that Bev and I had earlier when deciding if she would take over running the farm! Only this time, the outcome was much more positive! Bernard and Jo had spent five years sharemilking for a fellow SMASH farmer and had worked their way into a position to be able to make their next move into farm ownership as equity partners. Their goal was to be close to Hamilton, in a good dairying area, remain as sole operators, and have some sort of long-term commitment. And it had to be with someone they thought they could get on with. We ticked the first four boxes and I figured if we made the almost unheard of move of getting off the farm, then this would help tick the last box as well, as we would be out of sight and out of mind!! And hence the move. From our point of view, the timing worked out perfectly. I always thought that ‘one day’ we’d leave the farm, but when that ‘one day’ would get here, well, that was anyone’s guess. However, the circumstances and the opportunity that arose could not have worked out better. I mean, Bernard and Jo are top operators, diligent, hard working and as honest and conscientious as one could possibly hope for. I would have been a real idiot to not strive to make this work!
We hatched our plan and worked closely with our Rabobank manager, accountant, and solicitor to ensure that we could both achieve our goals. All cards were laid upon the table, and with full transparency from both parties, we can proudly say that our new venture is working and working well. We ‘sold’ the farm into a company of which Bernard and I are both directors, and Bernard and Jo now contract milk for this company. The thought of getting off the farm did take me a little longer to come to terms with than it took Bev, as I guess my connection to it was stronger than hers. However, once the decision had been made, we looked forward to other opportunities that would arise, plus were so excited at the opportunity that had been created for Bernard and Jo. The excitement and anticipation that they had for their move made us aware of how fortunate we were that we could move aside and yet still retain an interest in the farm. It is such a win/win situation.
I’ve used my allocation of words for this blog and will share more of the transition story complete with more on where we ended up going, why and how Bernard and Jo are going halfway through their first season at Ballyberg Farm.
I’m off on my e-bike now to go check out a new listing nearby. May the summer rain continue, and yes, I still love the sound of summer rain on the roof, doubly so now as it will keep the grass growing on farm plus it will help fill my water tank here in our humble new abode.
Happy New Year