‘Mrs Legendairy’ spreads the word
Eighteen years ago Cheryl McCartie left New Zealand for Tasmania with her husband Theo Van Brecht to pursue a dream of buying their own farm.
Now a well-established dairy farm owner, Cheryl is encouraging more Kiwis to follow in her footsteps recently returning from a recruitment campaign in New Zealand to attract up to 200 new farm workers and investors into the Tasmanian dairy industry.
Tasmania topped the confidence stakes in Dairy Australia’s most recent Situation and Outlook market report and Cheryl believes this positive outlook and strong demand from processors will attract more people into the industry.
“The whole season has been reasonable across the state and the autumn; quite exceptional,” she said.
“People are grateful for a good season and a good payout to make up some ground on some pretty ordinary seasons in the past.”
Demand for more milk is fuelling the confidence.
“In Tasmania we know the processors want the milk so that lifts everybody’s confidence,” Cheryl said. “We need more skilled farm workers and more farm investment to meet processor demand. It has to be done in a sustainable way, including having the people around you who have the skills and having up-and-coming people to take on the challenge.”
Cheryl was happy to return to her former home country to spread the word. In fact, she’s happy telling the dairy story both internationally or in her own backyard around Ringarooma in north-east Tasmania.
“The Tasmanian dairy industry requires skilled farm workers and more farm investment to meet processor demand because of their increased capacity,” she said.
“We had some very genuine inquiries in New Zealand and are following up with those contacts to see how we can assist them if or when they come to Tassie to suss us out,” Cheryl added.
A couple of times each year Cheryl hosts a bus load of school children on the family farm.
“We have to continue working with our communities so they understand how important dairy is to not only our regional communities but to our cities,” she said.
“It’s a profitable, well-run industry that produces a fantastically nutritious product.”
Cheryl has even found some local fame as ‘Mrs Legendairy’ for her support of Dairy Australia’s Legendairy marketing and communications initiative designed to build the profile and reputation of the industry.
“I’ve got a Legendairy vest and I’ll be walking down the street in Scottsdale and hear ‘hello Mrs Legendairy’ from one of the kids who can remember coming to our farm,” she said.
“All those little things have a positive influence, especially on the younger audience.”
The school groups are very attentive and keen to learn about the industry.
“Some kids are rapt in the animals, some are impressed by the stainless steel and when you tell them there is a tag in the cow’s ear with a tiny little computer chip in it you’ve got the rest of them over the line. They’re keen to know about it.”
Cheryl and Theo were share milking in New Zealand but finding the market too competitive to buy land.
“We saw Tasmania as an opportunity to buy our own farm,” she said.
It took a few years of contract milking and nine years of a share agreement before their dream became a reality when they bought their farm Ravenscroft at Ringarooma, along with part of a neighbouring property.
It originally had 300 cows but grew to 450 mainly Friesian-Jersey cross cows with the additional land. They continue to supply to Fonterra.
“We’re coming into our seventh season,” Cheryl said. “We’ve extended the dairy and changed laneways, fencing and water infrastructure.”
They were involved in nutrient and water management projects and discussion groups and their environmentally friendly redevelopment earned a DairyTas farm sustainability award about three years ago.
“It’s about looking after our patch and developing the farm so it’s a relevant and profitable farm going forward so we can step back and bring someone else in when the time is right,” Cheryl, 45, said.
Cheryl cites farm ownership as her proudest achievement.
“Running our own business was what we wanted. We had initial family support – Theo and his five siblings were each given 15-20 heifers when they started out – but as far as buying the farm we’ve done it on our own.
“We’ll live and die by our own sword. That was the biggest challenge we gave ourselves.”
The support from suppliers and the dairy industry after they arrived in Australia prompted Cheryl to nominate for the DairyTas board six years ago and eventually rise to the Chair’s role last November. DairyTas is Dairy Australia’s service delivery arm throughout Tasmania.
“We wanted to give back to the industry because we really appreciated the support from DairyTas and the extension services when we started here,” she said. “It really helped us to get where we are.
“I would say Tasmania has got equal resources available to it as New Zealand, which is a really well supported industry. It is a great industry to be involved in.”
Providing steps for young farmers to progress is close to Cheryl’s heart.
“Our share farm owner gave us a carrot to stay here and recognised we were worthy of the opportunity to grow cow numbers,” she said.
“There is a bit of luck in dairy but most of the time it’s the opportunities people present. The challenge for us is to create the same opportunity for the young guy who works in our business.”
Cheryl says the Australian dairy industry is facing a challenge to increase its growth to compete on a world market.
“We need to look at ways to encourage farmers to grow. At the end of the day that boils down to milk price and having the confidence to reinvest in your farm.”