By Kirra Grimes

A TEN per cent increase in milk production is just one of the benefits Fish Creek dairy farmers Graeme, Jenny and Shaun Cope have enjoyed in their two years participating in GippsDairy’s Focus Farm program.
The Copes milk a mixed herd of 800 Friesian, jersey and crossbred cows, and say the program, which involves monthly farm visits from a ‘Focus Group’ of around 30 local farmers, as well as service providers, bank managers and accountants has enabled them to access a wealth of information and resources that they’ll continue to utilise for years to come.
“It’s a really good group. It’s been working really well,” Graeme said.
“We take them on a tour of the farm, and if any particular issues or challenges have come up that month, like a bug in the ground or if it’s calving time, we’ll look at that.
“People share information, everybody talks and puts in their two cents and works it out together,” he said.
“It’s been a really good learning curve,” says Jenny, “And an opportunity to see if we could do things differently. Communication is getting a lot better with staff, sales reps, agronomists, bank managers and accountants.
“And it’s also helped Graeme share his knowledge with our son Shaun, who’s stepped into more of a management role over the two years.”
The Copes’ staff have also benefited from access to various educational courses such as first aid, chemical handling, pasture management, and the Cups On Cups Off course, which helped solve an ongoing and expensive mastitis problem.
The Focus Farm program was a natural progression for the Copes, who’ve always been ambitious and innovative farmers.
From a 20 acre farm at Middle Tarwin they moved to their 1000 acre Fish Creek property in 2008, building all the sheds from scratch and working hard to improve soil biology in 60 paddocks using Petrik microbes.
“We’re always trying to learn new things and how to do things better and pick up ideas from other people,” says Graeme of their decision to apply for the program in 2016.
Their time in the program is nearly up, with their last on farm ‘Focus Day’ coming up on June 24, and they wholeheartedly encourage other farmers to apply to be a part of the next one.
“Hopefully others will have a go. We’re pleased to have done it. It’s been very good for all of us,” Graeme said.
“The GippsDairy consultants have been very good in terms of helping us improve pasture management and herd health, as well as with our banking and farm safety procedures.
“They also helped us develop a roster which has been working well in terms of staff management and time management,” he said.
“You get a lot of support from GippsDairy,” Jenny said.
“They check in with you and see where you’re at and what’s working, and if you have any issues, you can always ring them.
“That support is available for anybody to access but this experience has highlighted to us that we should make more use of it. It’s a very beneficial opportunity, especially for young farmers.
“If they need help, there are people to help them along and if they’re going through a tough time – because there have been plenty of those recently – they’re not on their own.”
GippsDairy regional manager Allan Cameron urges interested farmers to apply for the two year program.
“There’s no type of farm business that makes for a better Focus Farm. We’ve had large and small herds, share-farmers, new industry entrants and people who have been farming for decades,” he said.
“Every farm business improves by being a Focus Farm and, more importantly, the lessons that are learned spread through the support group and into the wider farming community.”
Applications for the next round of three Focus Farms starting in July 2018 are now open. Contact Karen Romano for an application form on 0417 524 916 or email Submissions close at 5pm on Friday, April 20.