‘Farmily’ approach works well

Brent and Rebecca Miller on farm. PHOTO: NATWICK STUDIOS
Brent and Rebecca Miller on farm. PHOTO: NATWICK STUDIOS
Dairy farmer Rebecca Miller likes to keep her finger on the pulse of the dairy industry.

Keeping herself up to date with industry knowledge not only helps her farm business, but is also a way to help others.

She has been involved with the Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) for the past 12 years as a convener and facilitator, and is now business group leader of Ashburton.

She is also Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury sharemilker section chairwoman and has done Good Boss campaign project work with DairyNZ as well as other projects.

She set up the district’s DWN while living in South Canterbury.

Just four people turned up to the first session, and those numbers have grown to about 50, she said.

"I felt it was just what was needed," she said, of the connections the group gave to rural women.

Rebecca was the eldest of four siblings, and enjoys being an organiser, especially of events.

She has been on some form of council since she was 11 years old.

Rebecca has not always lived a rural life.

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

There were multiple shifts around the North Island from year to year as her parents followed the dairy season.

The longest time they spent in any one place was five years.

Looking back, Rebecca (42) found those moves difficult, especially as the eldest child. There were household jobs to get done while Mum and Dad were out on the farm.

"The lessons I learned as a kid and growing up, I’ve used," she said. And many of those lessons have shaped the way she and husband Brent (40) have raised their own three children, Blake (15), Blair (12) and Rhianna (10)), run their farm businesses and treated their staff.

Rebecca and Brent have known each other since they were in their late teens. He was a friend of Rebecca’s younger brother Graham.

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

"I’m extremely lucky he has my back through everything," she said, of Brent.

They are big on "farmily", a balance between working/living on farm and family.

"Every person deserves to be protected in a working environment — not only their physical but psychological being as well.

"With family we would love to create a movement, at all levels of primary industry to connect, collaborate, and communicate.

"Having a connected working environment with everyone on board is where the magic starts.

"It’s not only more productive and healthy but profitable because your team is on board and engaged."

The couple, under their company name MilkIQ, are sharemilkers on two farms; River Terrace Dairy, is 336ha effective on Withells Rd, Ealing, milking 1150 Friesian/Jersey-cross herd, in a 60-bale rotary, which they have been on for six years; and nearby Ealing Pastures farm is about 400ha from Maronan Ealing Rd to Withells Rd (it spans four roads in Ealing), milking 1450 cows with six full-time staff. The Millers are in their second season on Ealing Pastures.

The farms supply Fonterra and across both farms they have a mix of new and seasoned staff, some of whom had been with the couple for many years.

Rebecca thought retaining staff was important, especially those with young families, and they had a work practice to have everyone on-farm learning all processes on-farm.

It meant there were few knowledge gaps when people were sick or needed time away.

It also helped them run a six days-on, two days-off roster, with staff working an average 42-hour week.

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

"This team has been really resilient. We live where we work and everyone has value," she said.

MilkIQ was a way to put more intelligence into their businesses.

The MilkIQ website is constantly being updated and plans are in place for a new project, Land Events. It is an information platform to benefit other farmers and primary industry groups.

It would focus on events being held by groups, organisations and people working in the primary industries, and give people one place they could access the information, Rebecca said.

Rebecca was hoping it would stop double-up events being held by industry members and allow more collaboration.

The couple "threw their hat in the ring" to see how they were tracking on the River Terrace farm (with owners Andrew and Rachele Morris) and entered the Dairy Business of the Year in 2019.

They placed runner-up, and won best Canterbury farm performance, best people performance and leadership, and business resilience lowest cost of production per kg/ms.

In 2020, they won the same award categories and also won the medium input with best financials.

"Our passion is people. We have ideas how to develop and engage a team."

People were one of the most important aspects of their business model.

"If everything else is working [with your staff], profit will happen anyway," she said.

They were looking, in the future, to package their processes to others through their website and various online channels.


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