The final Fish Creek Focus Farm open day last week concluded with a farm walk led by Graeme Cope.

By Kirra Grimes

THE LOCAL dairy industry was well represented at an open day at the Cope family’s Fish Creek farm last week, with a large crowd gathering to hear how GippsDairy’s Focus Farm project has improved the Copes’ farm business over the last two years.
The Focus Farm project aims to improve profitability through strengthened understanding of operational costs, maximising homegrown feed and managing risk, and the open day was an opportunity for Graeme, Jenny and son Shaun Cope to share how close monitoring of farm activities and expenditure, and input from experienced farm facilitators, had helped them improve their farm business while integrating farm family needs.
The Copes had several goals at the commencement of the project in 2016, including evaluating the use of Petrik Soil Technology on whole farm productivity and profit, using business analysis tool DairyBase to enable comparison of farm business performance over time, improving financial record keeping, and analysing reproductive performance.
And while progress has been made on all these initial goals, as well as several ‘pop up’ goals that also benefited the farm business, Graeme highlighted communication and pasture management as some of the key areas in which the Focus Farm had helped business performance.
“I was wanting to communicate better and I like to think I am doing it better,” he said at the event last Tuesday.
“Pasture management has improved a lot. There was no system to what I was doing, it was all in my head, but I would get it wrong sometimes.”
Graeme also highlighted Shaun’s development as a big step forward over the past two years.
“Giving Shaun responsibility, which I need to do more of, takes the pressure off me, especially with pasture management.
“Since giving him the responsibility, he has grown as a person and we communicate better. He’s asking me more things and I am now able to give advice, rather than giving orders.”
GippsDairy regional extension officer Karen Romano, who co-facilitated the Fish Creek Focus Farm with John Mulvany, said the Cope family had been open, honest and willing to learn during their time as Focus Farmers, and that this had been key to increasing Shaun’s skill development and responsibility in the business, and developing a succession pathway, another of the Copes’ main goals.
“This was already a very good farm business, but the skills developed by Graeme and Shaun in particular have made it an even better operation,” Karen said.
“The way pasture management has improved, the progression of Shaun’s role in the business and the development of the way everyone in the business communicates with each other have been real highlights.”
Karen said one of the most important achievements was a ‘pop up’ goal that had been driven by Jenny.
“Safety became a real focus of the two years, with Jenny determined to change behaviour and protect both the people on farm and the business itself,” she said.
As well as working closely with Karen and experienced farm consultant John Mulvany, the Focus Farm project saw the Copes meeting with a support group of local farmers and service providers on a monthly basis, and Fish Creek dairy farmer Keith Straw, a member of the Copes’ support group, commented on the benefits of this collaboration, not only for the host farm, but for the wider farming community.
“It was good to be able to mix with other farmers, learn something and relate it back to my own farm,” he said.
“One example was the feedback on how to use DairyBase and how I can use it back at home.”
GippsDairy’s next local Focus Farm will be Jared and Melissa Moon’s at Yanakie. Farm consultant Matt Hall and GippsDairy’s Donna Gibson will co-facilitate the project from mid-2018 to 2020.