A dairy farm worth showing off

Brent and Rebecca Miller opened the farm gates of River Terrace Dairy Ltd farm to the public...
Brent and Rebecca Miller opened the farm gates of River Terrace Dairy Ltd farm to the public during the nationwide Open Farms campaign. PHOTOS: TONI WILLIAMS
“Happy staff, happy cows.”

That’s the mantra of Mid Canterbury dairy farmers Brent and Rebecca Miller, who agree their passion is people — one of the most important aspects of their business model.

The couple recently opened the gate of River Terrace Dairy farm to the public as part of the nationwide Open Farms campaign.

The event was attended by 48 people who had come from as far away as Christchurch and Hororata.

The couple, under their company name MilkIQ, are sharefarmers. They have been in the industry for more than 17 years and have recently been named finalists in the nationwide 2021 Primary Industries Good Employer Awards under the employee development award category.

River Terrace Dairy staff Roel, Jessie and Randy having a laugh during the Open Farms event.
River Terrace Dairy staff Roel, Jessie and Randy having a laugh during the Open Farms event.
Rebecca has also been named one of three Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year finalists.

Winners of both awards will be announced in April.

Rebecca and Brent are equity partners in River Terrace Dairy, which is owned by Andrew and Rachele Morris, and Bill Hogg.

It is in its seventh year of operation as a dairy farm and is a Fonterra supplier.

The farm, spanning 336ha at Ealing, started out as a wintering block to grow grass and other crops, such as kale, to feed the stock.

In its first year there were 950 Friesian-Jersey cross cows which, with the addition of another 75ha of land, grew to 1150 cows.

Five staff — Rebecca, Brent, Graham, Roel, Jessie and Randy — milk in a 60-bale rotary and each cow produces on average 500kg of milk solids per season.

The cows on farm last year produced 565,800kg of milksolids.

As sharefarmers, the Millers share some of the costs, such as staff, and shed costs and are then paid through percentage and a set amount each month.

The Open Farms visit started with some background information, then took a tour to view the 60-bale rotary with cup removers, neighbouring paddock and a tractor ride around the farm track.

Topics such as herd information, the importance of health and safety on farm, soil analysis, and measuring everything from water to fertiliser to grass length to protect the environment were covered.

There was also a special visit from DairyNZ’s Rosie the cow, Fonterra milk giveaways and activity packs for the children.

Rebecca was raised on farms — her parents were contract milkers for many years in her youth — but also spent time working in the corporate world in national and international sales, marketing and analyst roles.

She has her finger on the pulse of the dairy industry. She has been involved with Dairy Women’s Network for more than 12 years, is Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury sharemilker section chairwoman and has done Good Boss campaign project work with DairyNZ as well as other projects.

Brent studied at Telford Rural Polytechnic and they have known each other since they were in their late teens.

They share a similar life philosophy, so work well together.

The couple have three children — Blake, Blair and Rhianna — and are big on "farmily": a balance between working/living on farm and family.

The Millers believe retaining staff is important, especially those with young families, and have a work practice to have everyone on farm learning all processes on farm, meaning few knowledge gaps when people were sick or needed time away.

It also helps them run a six days-on, two days-off roster, with staff working an average 41-hour week.

The key was daily communication and nipping issues in the bud, she said.

"We live where we work and everyone has value," she said.

In 2019 and 2020 they entered the Dairy Business of the Year Awards to see how they were tracking and in the two years combined won eight awards. Among those awards they have won best Canterbury farm twice, best people leadership twice and business resilience twice.

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