Putting father and son on same page

Planning process helps Keely family with dairy farm succession

Business Management
Harrison and John Keely are on the same page about the future of their dairy farm after participating in the Our Farm, Our Plan program.

Harrison and John Keely are on the same page about the future of their dairy farm after participating in the Our Farm, Our Plan program.

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Father and son dairy farmers John and Harrison Keely are confidently on the same page about the future of their expanding enterprise in northern Victoria.

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Key points

  • Took part in planning process in 2018
  • Have achieved key goals from that plan
  • Updated plan to help advance succession planning

FATHER and son dairy farmers John and Harrison Keely are confidently on the same page about the future of their expanding enterprise in northern Victoria.

The fifth and sixth-generation Cohuna farmers first participated in the precursor program to Our Farm, Our Plan in 2018, and are refreshing their plan after ticking off, or nearing, some of their original goals.

"We have achieved a dairy upgrade and our goal of an irrigation upgrade has nearly happened as well," John said.

"We are growing the herd from 330 to 500, and we are now looking at a new feedpad."

John, 55, is also handing more management responsibility to Harrison, 24, as they work towards succession of the farming legacy established by John's great-great grandfather in 1874.

Our Farm, Our Plan, developed by Dairy Australia with support from Gardiner Dairy Foundation and DairyNZ helps farmers document long-term goals on a single page and implement plans to achieve business and personal objectives.

READ MORE: Our Farm, Our Plan program points Mike and Sarah O'Brien in the right direction

The free program also helps everyone on the farm get on the same page using a simple 'Now-Where-How' review planning process delivered through group sessions. One-on-one follow-up support is provided for two years to assist farmers in actioning their plan.

Everyone on the Keely farm is on board with John and Harrison's Plan on a Page, including John's wife Michelle, who also manages their retail clothing store in Cohuna, his father Des and a second full-time farmhand.

Move to new farm

Earmarking herd expansion and a dairy upgrade in the original plan was the catalyst for the purchase of a nearby farm with a larger dairy in spring, 2020; growing the Keely farm from 283ha to 728ha.

In January they shifted the dairy operation from the home farm to the new farm, where Harrison now lives and manages the herd.

Fodder is grown at the home farm where John manages the young stock, which were moved from the turnout block, freeing that land for lease.

"We had a 26-a-side swing-over which had served us well, but the yard wasn't big enough and wanting to milk more cows meant our dairy wasn't going to be sufficient," John said.

"The new farm has a 44-stand rotary with cup removers, auto dipping and flushing.

"Financially, we were better off purchasing the new farm than building a new dairy; we were in the new dairy a lot quicker than if we had gone through the process of building one."

Having reached key targets in their first Our Farm, Our Plan document, the Keelys took the opportunity in April to start updating the plan through sessions run by Murray Dairy.

"As you reach goals, you need to re-set your objectives," John said.

"You don't have to have 100 goals. There are just a few goals we want to achieve along the way; it's about what we want to be doing in five years' or 10 years' time."

READ MORE: Our Farm, Our Plan helps Maddie Veneman and Anthony Scott identify goals for Yarram farm

Our Farm, Our Plan supports farmers in working through the program's Farm Fitness Checklist, QuickPlan, Plan on a Page and Risk Register.

The Keelys' key business objectives in the revised Plan on a Page are a new feedpad at the new farm, and the smooth transition of the business to Harrison.

"Your goals and priorities change over time, and Our Farm, Our Plan gives you some clarity around what you need to do in your business to get to those goals," John said.

"As you are reaching some of those things, that's when your priorities can change.

"You might think 'I want to get out quicker' or 'No, I'm enjoying what I'm doing' and 'How does this affect other family members that are part of this plan?' "

John admits Harrison, aged 21 at the time of the original plan, was initially hesitant to take part in sessions but soon realised the ease of the process and was keen to update the plan this year.

"I've involved Harrison on both occasions. I felt it was important for him to be a part of it because we both need to be aligned," John said.

"Now we have a clearer understanding of what our end point is. We have got similar end goals, and our timelines match-up we are on the same page."

Farmers or discussion groups interested in participating in Our Farm, Our Plan and getting their Plan on a Page should contact their Dairy Australia regional team or visit, dairyaustralia.com.au/farm-business/our-farm-our-plan.

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