Rowlands family 

“I’m the oldest of four boys and I wanted to really give it a crack. I was keen from the word go, going through school with pet days and things…for me as a wee kid I loved the farm and the outdoors, driving tractors and bikes, and milking was just part of that. “A friend and I decided we didn’t want to do seventh form and there was an opportunity to go to Ireland and farm, so we chose to do that.”

He ensured he could get university entrance before he went and, after completing the exchange in Ireland, Jock did a Diploma in Agriculture at Massey University in 2002. Travel beckoned after university. 

“I knew the farm was a huge commitment and wanted to see a bit of the world. Mum and dad had travelled that path before me and I knew, once you’re committed, there’s a herd and farm to look after.”

In 2006 he came home to manage the farm for a season before going lower order sharemilking for three seasons - but there was one important thing missing. “I needed to find a partner to help. I decided to go to the South Island and expose myself to large scale herd management systems. I worked in Methven for two seasons on a 1200-cow farm. It was there I met Gemma.”

Keith and Eve offered the couple the chance to return home again as lower order sharemilkers and the rest is history.

“If it wasn’t for equity sharing and building ourselves a solid reputation we would probably still be lower order sharemilking.

The 50/50 is definitely a dream come true for myself, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of Gemma and her family.”

The next generation

Jock and Gemma have two young children, Madison, 3, and Rocky, 1, and Jocks hopes one day they will be able to give them the same opportunities he has had.

“It’s something I envisaged and hoped for (having the kids) and although it’s a huge challenge, every day is really rewarding and exciting.

“Just being able to have the kids and have the opportunity to keep the farm in the family for as long as we can, having the kids is part of that. We will do our best to give them that opportunity too. It’s obviously a long way down the track, but it’s nice to know that opportunity still exists.”

They predict they will pay off the herd and machinery in eight to 10 years and then look at buying land.

“The farm holds a lot of history, it would be pretty hard to see it get let go. That’s the goal, pay off the herd as quick as we can and put ourselves in a good position to be able to buy the land”.

Support in challenging times

Keith and Eve initially banked with the Primary Industry Bank of Australia, which was purchased by Rabobank, essentially making them a foundation client for the bank in New Zealand. Jock came on board in 2006 when he started managing. He credits the bank with helping him, especially over the last four to five seasons when they endured some extremely low milk prices.

“We were put back to square one in terms of borrowings and if it wasn’t for the bank, we probably wouldn’t be here today. To come through those $3.90 and $4 payout years was pretty challenging and the bank, particularly Tony Burgess our Agribusiness Manager, was really supportive,” he says.

“It was just being able to chat with them and when we were looking at making our repayments they were able to postpone a couple and help us get through.”

Jock rates his relationship with the bank as being extremely important. 

“We’ve had to borrow the money to get going and that’s where it all starts. The way to repay that support is to make sure you are disciplined with your financial management and, when you go through the higher payouts, make sure you pay as much as you can back.

“We have had to adjust budgets quite a bit. Coming through this season we had an extremely dry spell through November and December and had to dry off 50 cows. Our total milk yield was down 15% and, although Tony was busy, he did a lot of work on forecasts and has made a huge effort for us – he’s even popped out at 6.30pm when needed. It’s the little things like that. 

“They’re always helpful when you need some reassurance and give you confidence with the global markets".

It’s a huge risk we are undertaking, there’s a lot on the line, and we are relying on good advice to make decisions.”

Jock says farming is a long term game and having a strong banking partner helps put him at ease. “You know you can ring someone and just talk to them about what’s happening on the farm. It’s about building good relationships and we find they are very helpful.”

Over 100 years of history

The farm has been in the Rowlands family since 1905, when Keith’s great grandfather purchased the original 100 acre block.

In 1982, when Keith was 24, he purchased the herd and started 50/50 sharemilking for his mum and dad, milking 200 cows. Land purchasing and a leasing arrangement of the original farm began in 1987. Since then, they have added land and developed the property, putting in new fences and water systems and lifting productivity through fertiliser and new grass. 

A 20 bale rotary cow shed, built in 1982, was replaced in 2003 with a 40 bale shed, with land-based effluent disposal, in a more central location on the farm. The farm currently has a three-year average production of 153,000 milksolids. 

They also entered an equity partnership in 2008, purchasing a 300 hectare heifer grazing block in Piopio with five other farmers. All their young stock go to this block.

“We have taken risks along the way, but they have paid off and we managed to get debt to a manageable level,” he says.

Keith says Jock and Gemma have had to endure the low payout years in recent times, which has been tough for them. “I’m over cow sheds and early mornings. I was keen to give Jock a helping hand to get into buying the cows. We looked at lots of options but in the end we decided to sell him the cows and leave some money in, interest free.

“Our kids have had to work the whole way through, we’re not big on handouts. They’ve all had the opportunity to work (on the farm) and earn money. They are fantastic kids and I wouldn’t change anything.”

Keith and Eve have been with Rabobank for a long time. “I’m not a big one to shop around and change banks. I’ve got on well with the managers. I’m not ringing the bank manager all the time, but they have always loaned us the money we needed and I guess I’m a pretty good client now, there’s good equity in our business.

“They have always backed me. We are old school, we got where we are by being pretty tight fisted".

In the early years we didn’t go on holiday or draw a lot and ran a lean operation with tight control on discretionary spending. With four children our life centred around the farm and local school, where we had children attending for 19 years.”

He credits Eve with being a large contributor to the success of the business, and she has always done all the cashbook work. “I’ve got a top lady beside me. When you are farming, you’re not going to get there on your own. I’ve been lucky to have a wife that’s worked her arse off beside me and we have worked well together.

“I freely admit, if it wasn’t for Eve, we wouldn’t have got where we are - and we’ve brought up four kids along the way. She is a hard worker and it really is a team effort.”