Canterbury Winners

Geraldine dairy farmers Joe and Suz Wyborn

Canterbury BFEA Supreme Winners

Joe and Suz Wyborn


Dairy farmers Joe and Suz Wyborn are the Supreme Winners of the 2016 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA).

The Wyborn’s first year on this farm was only their third year dairy farming together, and their first fully sharemilking. Clearly the Pyes had confidence in the couple and this was justified according to the award judges who wrote: “The Wyborns represent everything that is positive about the New Zealand dairy industry. The couple work as a team, they have built their business remarkably quickly. They are extremely focused on developing and articulating processes and systems that allow the farm to run efficiently. Excellent cow production driven by sound pasture management and efficient use of water.”

Joe and Suz have two children, Molly (12) and Ben (10). They acknowledge the strength of their partnership which formed strong roots during their time travelling and working together overseas.

They say a clear definition of roles works well for them. Joe, an Englishman whose first job in New Zealand was in 1994 for a fencing contractor, oversees the cows and day-to-day operation of the farm. Suz is in charge of finance and calf rearing. Says Joe with a grin, “we have a good understanding – I don’t teach calves to drink and my wife doesn’t milk cows.”

The farm has an effective area of 220ha. Last season 910 mainly KiwiCross cows were peak milked in a System 3 operation, producing 411,000 kgMS. This season, in response to the reduced milkfat payout, 850 cows are being milked in a System 2 operation targeting production of 390,000 kgMS.

The judges noted this flexibility. They wrote: “While they had been driving production by using supplement in the high pay-out years, the couple were able to adjust quickly to a changing operating environment.”

Two centre pivot irrigators service all but 4.5ha. During the conversion vegetation was removed, mainly to accommodate the irrigators. However, Joe and Suz have worked hard to mitigate this loss with an ongoing amenity and shelter planting programme of natives, including in a small wetland area, and pine which will be trimmed into shelter belts around the calving area. They sought permission from their farm owners to purchase and plant as soon as they arrived. The judges pointed out this was done despite the couple not owning the land.

The Pyes were so impressed with the outcome they employed a gardener for their numerous properties but, Joe says proudly, “they bought her here first and showed her what they wanted the rest to look like”.

The Wyborns appreciate what they describe as a “unique relationship” with the Pyes. Joe first worked for them in 1998, driving in their agricultural contracting business. In 1999 he took over managing the business and for the next eight years built it from a 15,000 bale a year operation to one employing 16 drivers and making 80,000 bales.

Looking for less time on the phone organising, more family time, and the opportunity to build equity, in 2007 Joe and Suz took up a job managing one of Pyes’ smaller dairy farms. After a year they progressed to lower order sharemilking on the same farm. And a year later they backed themselves with the support of Pyes, stepping into the 50:50 sharemilking job and an equity partnership in the cows.

Their five year plan to buy out the Pyes’ share of the cows took just three years. The judges commented: “Good milksolid payouts coupled with prudent financial management meant they could fast-track the process.”

The couple credit their earlier years and experiences with shaping the way they are able to operate their dairy business now. Both grew up rurally, Suz in Central Otago, and Joe worked in dairying in the UK, combining this with agricultural college study. But they say it is the lessons learned and the insight gained while running the contracting business that mostly drives how they manage the farm today.

“I learned a valuable lesson doing that,” explains Joe. “I had the idea I was the only one who could run it, and in a sense I was, there was no getting away from it. So right from the start with the sharemilking, we worked really hard getting procedures and policies and rosters in place, always with input and buy-in from the staff, so it could run without us if need be.”

Liam Bartlett, Abby Lott and 2IC Nicole Daniels all have their own farm vehicle, a Daihatsu Rocky converted to a ute, to use. They are paid a bonus every six months based on such responsibilities as looking after their vehicle and gear, animal health, gradefree milk, shed tidiness and punctuality.

Joe acknowledges managing the contracting business gave him both the skills and the confidence to persevere with this approach. “It does rely on having the right staff, and a low staff turnover. It is working well and the staff love it, the farm just ticks along. They get told regularly they are not just here to milk cows, they get a great sense of responsibility which is good for everyone.”

There is a detailed, illustrated farm operating manual which is a live document. The judges were thoroughly impressed with the Wyborn’s system, noting it “allowed staff to run the farm safely and effectively unsupervised”.

For example one of the items on the checklist before leaving the shed after milking is to access the online signal that is sent every two hours from the soil moisture and temperature monitors under the irrigators. “They don’t have to check with me, they have all the information there and can just turn the irrigation off, there’s no point watering when you don’t need to,” says Joe. “We love technology; we use it everywhere we can.”

The judges said the Wyborns had an “outstanding adoption of technology and web-based tools to assist in farm management; they monitor and measure but most importantly make full use of data in their decisions”.

When asked to trial three “Handy automatic calf feeders” designed by Alvin Reid and his brother David, the couple immediately agreed, and then purchased three more. The feeders work off the calves individual EID tags, tailoring and monitoring what each calf gets, minimising labour input and allowing calves to feed ad-lib.

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