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Rebecca and Brent Miller: A journey fueled by passion for people

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To dairy or not to dairy?

About 15 years ago we found ourselves at a crossroad. There had been several dairy farming positions – small farms, large farms, family and corporate, North Island, South Island, lots of technology and no technology. 

Moving that had taken our small family to the brink of breakdown, loss, and burnout.  From working 2.30am to 7.30pm at night, 28 days on two days off roster, and reactionary circumstances, we decided to sit down, plan and think strategically about where we were going with dairying. 

A big question was: Do we continue down the dairy farming path or look outside and into other industry? Building perhaps?  Rebecca grew up in the dairy industry and had shifted many times with her parents and family and did not want the same unrooted life for our children. 

We both came to the same conclusion after soul searching and knew that our skills and experience was in dairy, and at the heart of it we still saw an opportunity on many levels. 

Reflecting on what we enjoyed, what we would like to achieve in our farming operation, our guiding principles, values and those in our next employer, strategically planning our next move, documenting our negotiables/non-negotiables, researching the industry widely as to who supported, coached, and mentored their staff, where we could learn our identified skill gaps and create a deep foundational knowledge at all levels of the business. 

We wanted to remain confident that there were some amazing employers out there, who were willing to share their knowledge, and who also had similar values and principles.

Finding the right fit

Through deep research across industry, we found the right fit for us – Spectrum Group.  They opened their books and knowledge to us, training, mentoring, support, and confidence when we needed it.
 

They were absentee owners and over the years gave us the inclusion, autonomy, and ability to make strategic, tactical, and operational decisions with their guidance. Quickly realising the opportunity, we knew we could grow our knowledge with the Spectrum Group.

Working with the Spectrum Group for about five seasons, our skills and abilities went far beyond what you would normally obtain in a dairy farming business.Through benchmarking and having the 16 farms analysing and sharing transparent information, the power of knowing our numbers and applying pressure where needed was excellent. It made us very aware of the timing of decisions made, the ability to present a value proposition, calculate the return on investment and communicate this clearly.

We will always be grateful for this foundational knowledge and have added our own flair, learnings, intention, and observations to our business, MilkIQ Limited.

Out in the community

During the time with the Spectrum Group, Rebecca also connected with Dairy Woman’s network.

She started her own group in South Canterbury, growing to 50 ladies, and then to Mid Canterbury to convene for another four years. 

Leading the group was a highlight and gave Rebecca a taste of facilitating and leading groups, but it was a chance to be shoulder tapped for many projects.

One of which has been underpinning a lot of what we strive to achieve within industry today.

The Dairy Fatigue project,

led by Lynda Clark, past DWN CEO.  The primary objective was to discover what the drivers were for long hours on the dairy farm, what were the core reasons, and could we dig deeper than the obvious.  Through the four years on the project, we undertook deep analysing of our on-farm systems, the drivers behind everything we did with our own team – both tangible and intangible.

Today, we use this knowledge and have been able to identify and apply this to get our teams to an average of 41 hours per week.

Doing well by both people and numbers

Our next growth opportunity was when we met with Andrew and Rachele Morris, through a mutual connection, consultant Jeremy Savage. He saw the right fit between what both parties needed and wanted in the future.

Andrew and Rachele, are forward thinking, take care of their people and love to see people grow and succeed. These are values that we also covet, and share, with our staff and community.

In the seven years that we have been with the Morris’s, we have grown from Manager, Contract Milker, Variable Order sharemilker to Equity Partner, and two seasons now running both River Terrace Dairy Limited and Ealing Pasture Holdings Limited, totally 2600 cows in Mid Canterbury.

We learnt that as leaders of the team, the environment we provide on farm is important. It is the behaviour, way we interact, speak, the words we use, the intonation and timing of informal and formal communication, the way decisions are made and by who, are some of the underpinning intangible factors on a high trust, high performing and connected team.

All team members are valued for their skills, expertise, and experience. Everyone has something to bring to the team, and we have found this type of inclusion invaluable in retaining and creating an engaged culture on farm.  Which has also created virtually zero turnover across both farms.
 

We have found knowing our numbers to be an essential part of our story. 

Benchmarking has been a way where we can prove, identify, and clarify our position quickly, then mitigating as we need to.  This has been through MacFarlane Rural business, Dairy Business of the year and DairyBase.  Over two years, we have managed to win eight awards through the Dairy Business of the year and will enter again this year. It has given us confidence and has also given confidence to our partners, Andrew and Rachele as well.

This year also saw Rebecca as a finalist for the Dairy Woman of the Year for recognition of work carried out in industry through Dairy Woman’s Network and DairyNZ – dairy connect, projects, Federated Farmers. Then our own business Milk IQ a finalist in the Ministry of Primary Industry Good Employer Awards, Employee Development award national finalist.

These were amazing to be a part of, and we loved connecting and representing our people, and business at this level.

Adding more layers ...

We created and trademarked the word FARMILY™ to try and capture the community on farm, our farming family, this was quickly recognised around industry, and Rebecca was invited to speak around the country in March with Dairy Woman’s network, Make Time for your People workshop.

Just last week, we were invited to a dinner with MP Meke Whaitiri, to connect with industry.  Being featured also in the American version of Dairy Exporter, Hoards Dairyman, in April 21, was awesome.  We have realised that some of the issues we face in New Zealand, are overseas as well.

Rebecca was in Kellogg course 38 in 2018 and completed her research on “Is there a need for an Information Platform to collaborate Primary Industry events”, – resulting in the development of Land Events limited, which is in its final stages of development.  You will see the framework now online, exciting to finally be at this stage. 

Brent completed his Kellogg project in course 41 in 2020 on “What is the true cost of transience to the New Zealand dairy industry?” This was further investigation on a question we had held for a while, ever since the Dairy Fatigue project with DairyNZ.  He was delighted to find that 78% of turnover can be prevented.

What the future holds?

A vision held dearly is that we have a thriving, connected and collaborative primary industry that is celebrated by everyone, and we are proud to pass onto our next generation.

 

To do this we see ourselves collaborating and creating our way through developing agile tools, while also promoting others in industry.   Farmily™ and MilkIQ Limited and milkiq.online forum is part of our microcosm tools for farming, identifying the tangible and intangible drivers on any sized farm, for direct application. Land Events is a big driver for connection and collaboration of events, jobs, and knowledge at macro level.

Farming Families is developed with rural professionals for our community wellbeing, we are beginning this in Mid Canterbury with two quiz nights and a ball on the 12th of June 2021.  All proceeds are retained within the community for further events to connect.

Talking with Ministry of Primary Industries and other industry organisations now for the development of an Agribase Innovation Centre for the South Island, to have a collaborative home for entrepreneurship, ideas, and think tanks, based in Ashburton.

Brent and Rebecca love what they are doing right now as a team, striking on many fronts.

We are stepping up and into our passion for people and we do so proactively. We continue to move forward for our vision to connect, collaborate, and communicate at all levels within industry. If you have any ideas and want to collaborate with us, please get in contact, we’d love to chat.

Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​