South East dairy farmers John and Karen Hunt are committed to continuous improvement. In fact, Karen says in business, you can never say ‘right, I’m done.’
“There are always things you can do better, and people you can learn from,” Karen said.
The family set up a farm in Allendale East after arriving in South Australia from New Zealand a decade ago. Now John and Karen are equity managers in a 600-cow dairy and co-own a neighbouring (soon to be) 450-cow dairy with John’s brother.
The new farm has been a gradual development, with progress as cash flow has allowed. “We’ve done a lot of capital works in the past 18 months which has come out of cashflow. We’ve had to manage that very, very carefully, particularly given the recent downturn in the industry,” Karen said.
For example, part of the new property was diversified into potato farming to provide cashflow and to assist with soil fertilisation, before turning that land back to dairy pasture.
“You have to think smart and you need to be ready to change your plans and respond to shifts in the industry,” Karen said. “We try to run as lean as possible.”
A constant focus for John and Karen is food safety. “We are audited regularly by our processor and Dairysafe, and we work hard to ensure quality standards are achieved,” Karen said.
“As part of that, all contractor work, such as spraying and fertilising, is documented. We have standards and policies around stock identification if they are being treated, and every staff member is included in training.
“We do regular training with all staff and our quality and safety policies are included in this training. We have long term staff and that’s really important when you’re focused on quality and efficiency.”
The Hunts have also invested in a sprinkler system for more efficient irrigation, and use state-of-the-art soil moisture monitors to measure how much water they actually need to apply.
They recently took part in the Rural Business Support Program’s Farm Business Advisory Service. “Having another set of eyes looking at your business is invaluable. It’s always hard opening your books for an outsider, but it’s all about continual improvement.”
John, who is the current President of the South Australian Dairyfarmers’ Association, believes that despite the occasional bump in the road, the future is bright for dairy farming in SA.