Bennetts banking on a strong future
When Kylee and Ben Bennett heard that no children in a Camperdown school classroom wanted to become dairy farmers, they knew something had to change.
The Bennetts hope Dairy Australia’s new Legendairy campaign will be the impetus for that change.
The Bennetts purchased their 300ha farm in the Stony Rises near Pomborneit in 2005, a year after migrating from New Zealand to pursue better opportunities to buy land.
The past eight years have been rocky in more ways than one, but the Bennetts have no doubt that dairying has a positive future if industry factors align.
They are confident Legendairy will give the industry the image boost that it needs.
“We were surprised when we moved here that dairy farming was not seen as an attractive career,” Kylee said.
“Even our kids at school did a session on what they want to be when they leave school – none of the kids wanted to be farmers.
“That was quite sad really when Camperdown relies so much on dairy,” Kylie added. “And that’s why I see Legendairy as such an important initiative.”
Ben agrees. “It will lead to greater appreciation that dairy is the cornerstone of the whole south-west, or all of Victoria for that matter,” he said.
“Other industries have gone, but we’ve still got the land. Dairy has huge potential but it’s got to be based on solid foundation stones.”
The Bennett farm itself is based on stones.
After inspecting 24 different properties in their first year in Australia, they settled on the 300ha farm in the aptly named Stony Rises.
“Someone gave us really good advice – don’t buy a small farm, buy as big as you can,” Kylee said.
However, the larger piece of land at a lower than average price came at a cost.
It was already the consolidation of three other farms but much of the land couldn’t be farmed because of the rocks.
“We’ve spent nearly two times what we bought the farm for to get it into the shape that we feel with give us a low cost of production and reduce risk exposure to climatic conditions and essentially make money,” Ben said.
“We knew that before we bought the place. We had an overall plan and we’re probably 80-85 per cent along the journey.”
“We survived eight years when some would have thought we wouldn’t,” Ben said. “Most people thought we were mad, absolutely troppo (to buy the place).”
A rock crusher was used to clear the land.
“We sit on the third biggest volcanic plain in the world. We’re sitting on top of a lava flow.
“You couldn’t drive a motor vehicle on our farm, only a four-wheel-drive tractor over parts of it. We had fern almost six foot high, couldn’t put fertiliser on unless using an aeroplane, couldn’t grow ryegrass and we had an extremely low pH level.
“The rock crushing with a 100-tonne roller has been magnificent. It’s now arable land. It has increased productivity and the value of the property.”
“Now we grow a lot of ryegrass in winter with minimal to no pugging. We can grow dry matter pretty much all year round. If you look at the average rainfall over the past 50 years, we should be growing feed every month of the year.”
Though they admit it has been tough over the past eight years, that challenge of making the property viable is part of the appeal of dairy farming for the Bennetts, who now milk 400 cows on the property.
“What we like is the challenge of turning something that seemed pretty marginal into an arable, high-performance, intensive pasture operation,” Ben said.
“With dairy farming you can grow anything…you can grow wealth, you can grow equity.”
However, the Bennetts believe changes need to be made before dairy farmers can reap proper reward for their efforts.
Before moving to Australia, Ben studied a Bachelor of Technology and Process Engineering in New Zealand and worked in the meat industry. He has seen the industry “from the top and bottom” and believes that over the past three years the Australian dairy industry has grown more focused but says changes are needed for it to match and surpass its New Zealand counterpart.
“Producers and processors must operate under a more holistic financial environment, which is not happening at present, reflecting the decline in the Australian milk pool,” he said.
“Both parties need to have the opportunity to maximise their profit margins. This will kick start growth and a sea of opportunities to produce a safe and wholesome product, as we do.”
Ben would like to see changes to milk payment systems.
“Milk processors have an annual amount to pay for the milk. At the moment they are skewing how that is paid to procure milk, which is not the same as maximising the farmer’s profitability. The farmer’s profitability could be significantly enhanced by how their milk price is distributed. Presently it is doing everything to destroy their market. At the moment the farmer has no control over their financial destiny.”
“Our wealth and land value should be better than New Zealand,” he said.
“We have the opportunity; we have the climate particularly between July and December. That’s where you make your money.
“It doesn’t matter how hard we work on our respective farms, we need to have greater industry appreciation of where it’s driving us. Farmers need to take ownership – we are the biggest entity in the whole equation.
“If the pricing structure can get sorted out, there is a path to success.”
The Bennetts and their five children aged two to13 enjoy their lifestyle, with good access to schools and sporting facilities just 15 kilometres away in Camperdown.
“Our family is healthy, we’re keeping our heads above water…we’re very fortunate,” Kylee said.
The family’s ultimate goal is to have independent control of their financial future.
“Both our families are entrepreneurial types – we could see the opportunities in dairy,” Ben said. “You can work for someone all your life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get further ahead.”
Now they hope Legendairy gives the industry they love the boost it deserves.