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    From a 30 kg Suitcase to owning 850 cows - Harper studies make alumni's dairy dream a reality

    1 February 2024

    Harper Adams Agriculture alumni Dewi Jones and Zoe Cutmore arrived in New Zealand in 2018 with a suitcase and a dream.

    Dewi, who had visited the country during his industry placement year, and always knew he wanted to return with his partner, Zoe.

    In this guest blog, they explain how their Harper Adams studies helped make their dairy dream a reality.

    Last June, exactly five years from arriving together in New Zealand, we purchased 850 dairy cows - our most rewarding step yet in our NZ venture! This is how our story began…

    In his placement year, Dewi got the opportunity to work in New Zealand on a low input grass-based system, milking 600 spring calving kiwi cross cows.

    His time in NZ taught him how to manage grass most efficiently and to farm the grass growth curve. He learned that large herds allow each team member to be personally accountable and have responsibility for day-to-day decisions, thus gaining financial awareness and broader skills for progression.

    Dewi’s exposure to progressive and highly profitable systems during his placement both built his reputation and accelerated his career progression on his return to New Zealand after his final year at Harper Adams.

    He was able to present himself straightaway as a manager, with his partner Zoe working as a farm assistant on the neighbouring farm which carried out the same grass-based system.

    For Zoe, this was the start of her dairy career in understanding the grass system and the wealth creation pathways in the NZ dairy industry. In essence, this comprises a strict pasture-based regime, with low input principles targeting profitability, and production as a consequence, not a target.  

    Fast forward two years: together we started our own business, contract milking 900 cows in mid Canterbury, New Zealand.

    Contract milking consists of our team managing the cows and farm on a negotiated set price per kg milk solids produced. This arrangement only works if the farming system principles and goals are aligned across the farm owner and contract milker, a win-win approach.

    Three years in, this set up allowed our contract milking business to generate surplus cash for reinvestment. This was hard-earned; however, the exposure and challenges of running our own operation allowed us to understand and manage our cashflows and develop our financial literacy.

    Being surrounded by progressive people and having taken steps to ensure we kept our good reputation, five years into our joint New Zealand venture, our next opportunity presented itself in the form of a ‘herd owner sharemilking’ arrangement, involving the purchase of 850 cows.

    In summary, our business now provides cows, labour, shed electric, transport, and 50 per cent of feed and fertiliser costs. In return we get 50 per cent of the milk cheque. This next step exposed us to starting a relationship with the bank, securing a loan, financial forecasting, and risk management. 

    We made herd ownership our main goal in our initial five-year plan.

    Purchasing the cows was a huge milestone for us, and one we could only have achieved through building a strong reputation, going the extra mile, having self-motivation, guidance from farm owners who enabled progression for us as well as their businesses, strict financial budgeting and forecasting and, last but most importantly, the team we have around us.

    Our team are each on their own journeys, learning and progressing, making our success possible while both learning from us and also sharing and contributing. We know that the people you have around you and are part of the team are your biggest asset.

    All of this comes down to our personal goal: to achieve farm ownership in New Zealand.

    Harper Adams was where our goal and the means to achieve that goal, originated. It gave us the foundation knowledge and skills on which to build and excel in the agriculture industry, whichever specific sector that may be.

    The placement was our highlight for growing the social skills to encounter and work with people from different cultures, locations, and backgrounds. We learned to network and to seek out opportunities arising in the sector, and how to analyse information and apply it in practice every day - most of all, having rich, purposeful experiences, and creating friends for life and memories that will be cherished forever.



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