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Wilith Farm


For Jenny and Miah Smith the journey to farm ownership has been one of stepping stones. After eight years contract milking for dairy farmers in the North Island of New Zealand the Smiths found themselves in a position to form an equity partnership with Jenny’s family and purchased their 350-hectare farm in Rotorua.

But their story doesn’t start there. While Miah had worked on farms since he was 15 and Jenny was a third-generation dairy farmer from Taranaki, it took several years before they took the plunge to pursue their passion.

“I’d grown up on our family dairy farm and I loved helping Dad with the cows and calves,” Jenny said.

“I studied at the Taranaki Polytechnic after high school and gained a certificate in office systems after which I began working in an accounting firm and continued my business studies."

“But while I enjoyed working with numbers I really wanted to be working on the land and with stock.”

The Smiths went farming together for the first time in June 2003, contract milking 440 cows on a farm 20km west of Taranaki.

“We worked there for two years and learnt a lot, and with the support of the farm owners went lower-order sharemilking in South Taranaki," Jenny said.

“We spent an additional few years sharemilking for some excellent farmers, all of whom encouraged us to look at the big picture for our future.”

Miah and Jenny entered the coveted Sharemilker of the Year competition in 2008 and received a merit award, and it was also about this time that the Smiths really began re-assessing their goals. “Farm ownership has always been our intention, but we were still unsure how we were going to achieve that." 

“We looked at lots of options and decided that 50/50 sharemilking wasn’t the next stepping stone for us. “Instead we chose to look at bigger lower-order jobs and build up our savings to look at an equity partnership in the future.”

An opportunity presented itself to milk 750 cows on a property in South Taranaki, by the following year they had moved up to 1000 cows, providing a good increase in cashflow and contributing well to their equity position.

Jenny and Miah had built their capital up to a point where farm ownership was beginning to look possible in the future but a chat with their local Rabobank rural manager made them realise how soon they could be achieving their ambitions.

“My Dad and Uncle John had moved to Rabobank a few years earlier and after sitting down with them and the local Rabobank bank manager, the possibility of joining in an equity partnership became more of a reality and we agreed to look for a farm to purchase together,” Jenny said.

On finding the ideal farm the proposal was for a six-way equity partnership between the Smiths and the Wilsons (Jenny and Miah along with Jenny’s parents Glenys and Alister, her aunt Wendy and uncle John).

“We couldn’t speak highly enough of the Rabobank team, we feel like we’ve had their support from day one”

“They continue to be incredibly helpful in understanding our business and helping us work out the best way to finance our operations," Jenny said. “Rabobank isn’t just interested in your bank balance but the bigger picture, they know your kids by name and are generally interested in what’s happening in your life.”

With the support of their family Miah and Jenny along with sons Taylor and Dylan manage the dairy farm purchased, 22km south of Rotorua in 2011, naming it ‘Wilith’ as a blend of the Wilson and Smith family names.

‘Wilith’ had been converted back from forestry around six years before they purchased the block and this, along with the different climate and soil types, has brought about its own challenges.

“When we purchased the farm, we could see that it lacked nitrogen and fertiliser and we thought that we could easily milk 650 cows by correcting that,” Jenny said.

“However, we soon learnt that the climate and soil type were very different to Taranaki and the process to completing its forestry conversion is ongoing."

“Although most of the stumps have been removed, most of the paddocks still had wind rows and piles to be cleared, the paddocks also lacked top soil and we have spent a lot of time and money rebuilding organic matter to improve the soil.”

These challenges resulted in the Smiths making a decision to drop their milking numbers back to 550 cows the following year.

Jenny said they expected to be able to increase stock numbers as farm improvements were made. “Our goals for ‘Wilith’ are to fully feed our stock, continue clearing paddocks of wood and weeds to increase our milking platform, improve the soil quality and make more supplement on farm,” she said.

“We are very fortunate to have our family as partners and both Dad and Uncle John have helped us out on the farm a lot over the years, particularly with clearing the wood piles, summer spraying and calving in the spring."

“It’s been exciting to enter into farm ownership and hopefully, with the support of Rabobank, we’ll be able to continue to grow our business as opportunities arise.”