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Young farmer focus: Alex Dunn - "There are so many lessons we can learn from new Zealand"

Alex Dunn, 20, is in her final year studying for a degree in agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester. She recently came home from a four-month university trip to New Zealand.

New Zealand: In the context of Brexit, much has been said about what we should learn from New Zealand, so I decided to use my four-month placement within my degree to find out first-hand.

 

What I found was a progressive farming industry and lots of lessons to take away.

 

While some view the overnight removal of farm support there in the 1980s as progressive and brave, there is no doubt it caused massive disruption, economic distress and much personal pain. Taking such a cliff edge approach in the UK would not be appropriate, however we can learn from how the New Zealand farmers responded.

 

During my two farm placements – on a North Island dairy goat farm and a South Island dairy cow farm - I saw an industry focused on progression.

 

For young people in the UK without a family farming background, like myself, it can feel impossible to make that first step towards managing or owning a farm. However, in New Zealand, it is a more realistic goal.

 

Milking: The older generation appears much more willing to help new entrepreneurs get a foothold into farming businesses and to pass down management responsibility at an earlier age than is commonplace at home.

 

In the dairy sector specifically, the share-milking system is popular. It is made up of distinct steps where an individual moves from being an employee to taking a greater share of returns, costs and ownership of assets in the business.

 

Farm ownership or equity partnership is often the final step, but the system can be used in many different ways.

 

In New Zealand, I worked with Nathan and Debra Wilson, who own their own farm after working through the share-milking system. Nathan explained that unlike in the past, the focus of many who are currently in the share-milking system may not now be on farm ownership. Individuals are happy to remain in a share-milking position, where less of their capital is tied up in the ownership of land.

 

Market: Another lesson is the market focus of New Zealand farmers. Their only return is from the market and all key business decisions are made with the market in mind. This market approach is enhanced through a higher degree of co-operation and collaboration than we see.

 

We will need to look carefully at how to take a more market-oriented approach given the higher expectation for British farmers to produce a greater suite of public goods than might be expected in New Zealand.

 

Whatever Brexit delivers, we need a farming industry in the UK more focused on progression, market development and collaboration.

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