Plan next season’s recruitment now to avoid unnecessary headaches

Dairy farmers taking on new sharemilkers or contract milkers next season should be planning recruitment now, as the industry continues to face staff shortages with competition high among employers.

Perrin Ag senior consultant Mark Williams says in his experience many dairy farmers don’t plan their recruitment well and end up rushing the process. That can spell trouble down the track.

“If you know you will be recruiting for the 2022/23 season, you should be spending time now getting your ducks in a row and planning before Christmas. Then you can hit the ground running with advertising early in the New Year.

“Give yourself the best chance of catching the highest caliber candidates, who will already be making plans. If you leave it too late, you’ll hurriedly place an ad and find yourself interviewing people with scraps of paper and then wonder why it doesn’t work out.”

Mark encourages farm owners to do their homework before they even put together a job ad or choose where to advertise.

How do you farm & why?

Consider your farm system and farming goals. Then develop a sharemilking or contract milking agreement that will help achieve those goals. This will tell you a lot about the type of person you’re looking for.  

“Most job ads provide detail about physical things like farm size, cow numbers and shed set-up,” says Mark. “But often they can be vague or there is not enough information about the type of operation being run and the farm owner’s values. Make it clear what you do and why do you do it.

“When your new person starts, they’ll know there’s no point asking for PKE, maize or 190 units of nitrogen because it doesn’t fit with your farming system or philosophy.”

While it’s important to stand out from the rest, don’t overpromise. Mark has seen many ads that talk up the job to the extent where it’s almost too good to be true.

“There is no farm that is as good as some of the ads I’ve read,” he says. “This can lead to a misalignment in expectations between employers and employees.”

Know your numbers

Mark also stresses the importance of budgets.

“Doing full budgets might mean you end up recruiting for a contract milker instead of a sharemilker because the numbers don’t stack up.

“The opportunity you are offering needs to be profitable for both parties, especially with rising farm costs.”

Tailor your agreement

Employment contracts should be tailored to your specific operation and have an annual business plan, farm policy and review process built in as an appendix.

“It‘s too easy to copy and paste standard industry agreements,” says Mark. “They are great as a starting point, but they don’t cover the nuances of specific operations. Often people fill in the bare minimum by ticking the boxes because they hate the process. But then issues arise because you’ve got no farm policies, nothing is written down, it’s too vague or simply says ‘as required’ next to areas such as imported supplements.

“That’s when conflict arises because the sharemilker feels like the owner is dictating to them. Too many times, the farm policy is communicated verbally as the season progresses. You don’t want to get to the 30th September and then have a conversation about how mating is going to work.”

Once you’ve done your homework, Mark suggests FarmSource and SEEK as the best places to advertise. And don’t forget to tap into your personal and rural professional networks for recommendations.

Plan your interview process

Having a plan for tackling the interview process will help you assess each candidate in a consistent way so you can compare apples with apples.

“Conducting phone interviews with your shortlist can help you identify 3-4 you think are worthy of an interview in person. Have consistent questions for each one and a scorecard for marking them,” says Mark.

Give candidates had a copy of any contract or appendices well before the interview to help them get a clear picture of the job being offered, remove any ambiguity and help them make an informed decision.

“Don’t be scared to bombard them with paperwork. If I was a contact milker going for an interview, it would be a positive sign that the farm owner is a good operator.

“Then the interview is about seeing how well they’ve digested that information and getting their thoughts on how they will farm within those policies and within that budget.”

Check references thoroughly

Once you’ve chosen your preferred candidate, checking references is essential. Make sure they have provided at least one recent employer in their reference list.

“If they can’t do that, or if you suspect their references are friends or colleagues from previous jobs, alarm bells should ring.”

The people you have looking after your farm will make or break your business. Finding a sharemilker or contract milker that’s the right fit is a challenging and competitive business. While getting your recruitment process right takes time and effort, it is an investment that will pay dividends.



Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations. If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”

Abbey Dowd

Consultant

B.Ag.Sc (Hons), MNZIPIM

Abbey joined Perrin Ag in February 2023 as part of the firm’s graduate recruitment programme, Empower.

Abbey grew up surrounded by dairy farms in a close-knit community in South Waikato. She saw first-hand how local farmers supported her community, which is what inspired her to study at Lincoln University.

Growing up in a rural community Abbey has always been impressed by how much local farmers contribute to the community. She wanted to help give back to the industry and play a part in helping our primary sector continue to produce quality food in a sustainable way.

In 2022, Abbey spent the summer as an intern on one of New Zealand’s first commercial deer milking operations. Her Honours project was researching deer milk alongside other more traditional milking operations and assessing the deer milking industry’s future production possibilities.

“Growing up I didn’t live on a farm, but I always knew I wanted to work in the farming sector. I wanted a role where there was a balance between working on and off farm and where I could support farmers to get the best out of their businesses.”

Sam Gray

Consultant

Sam grew up on a dairy farm in the Far North. After graduating from the University of Otago in 2005 with an Honours degree in molecular biotechnology, he spent several years working in medical research in New Zealand and Scotland. Upon returning to New Zealand in 2012, he spent four seasons dairy farming in Northland before purchasing a 56 ha block in Taupо̄, where he was first exposed to farming under a nitrogen cap. Sam joined Perrin Ag in 2023 and brings his strong analytical skills that are grounded by a pragmatic approach to problem solving. Outside of farming and consultancy, you’ll likely find him fly fishing, hunting or snowboarding.

“A lot of farmers feel overwhelmed in the face of a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. I strive to help farmers understand what these environmental regulations mean for their business, and offer practical solutions that allow them to keep doing what they do best, whilst remaining compliant”.

Danni Armstrong

Finance administrator

Danni grew up on a life style block in Atiamuri and spent five seasons as a relief milker in the area. During this time, her full time roles were in various fields including the rental car, health care and marine industries. Danni has had a focus on administrative and accounting duties, but is also proficient in looking after customers especially well, social media and website operation, running a rental car fleet and the associated tasks like training, rosters, H&S and organising repairs! Danni joined Perrin Ag in May 2021, to be part of a business in an industry she is passionate about.

During her spare time Danni can be found reading a book with her cats or out enjoying the walks in Rotorua’s Redwoods.

“What motivates me each day is knowing that I will be challenged with a range of problem solving tasks. I love to see all the figures adding up and knowing that my role makes a difference to the team.”

Duncan Walker

Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc, MNZIPIM (Reg)

Coming from a drystock and dairy farming background, Duncan has always been passionate about growing primary sector businesses. Whether it’s pastoral farming, forestry, horticulture or investments outside the farm gate, sustainably optimising business performance is Duncan’s passion. After graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agribusiness, Duncan’s first opportunity to optimise a farm business was by undertaking a dairy conversion. Duncan project managed the conversion and continued to run the dairy farm for a further three years.

Since joining Perrin Ag in 2011 Duncan works with a wide range of clients including those ‘outside the farm gate’. With his strong background in investment analysis, business strategy and project management, Duncan is increasingly working with clients to analyse and integrate horticulture and forestry investments into their farm businesses.

“I enjoy helping clients navigate through the complexities of today’s operational, financial and environmental challenges. Seeing clients achieve their goals is very rewarding”

Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations.  If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”