Dairy farmer Bonita Koch wins Rabobank Award

By Sophie Baldwin

Transitioning their milk pool to A2 has seen Tongala dairy farmer Bonita Koch awarded Rabobank’s annual Dr John Morris Business Development prize at a graduation dinner in Sydney in July.

Mrs Koch participated in the bank's Executive Development Program – a 12-month course she undertook to improve and develop her business sense.

"Farming had taken a back seat while I focused on starting a family. I was looking at becoming more involved again but I felt I was lacking confidence and motivation so I decided to take on the program,” Mrs Koch said.

Mrs Koch and her husband Merv milk 700 split calving cows on 220ha.

She said her defining moment during the course came when she was told "If you are doing the same as everyone else, expect to get paid the same".

That particular message really hit home and became the catalyst behind the drive to change to producing A2 milk.

"The program helped set the strategic direction of our business and also gave me the confidence to look outside the square at other options and not stay the same as everyone else," she said.

Setting goals to transition the business was important and included a plan to change processing companies by January of this year and supplying A2 protein milk by July 1.

The timing for change in the northern Victorian dairy industry was not ideal, with drought conditions and high feed and water prices, but the couple decided the risk of doing nothing was even greater.

Mrs Koch used her newly learnt negotiation skills to move the business from one processor to another.

They then decided to sell the majority A1 cattle and buy in the A2 genetics they required, reducing the changeover period significantly.

They presently run two herds, but are expecting to be total A2 by autumn next year.

All young stock on the property also contain the A2 gene.

"We feel fairly confident going forward that we can create a larger margin to be able to withstand the seasonal conditions like drought, water prices and high feed costs and even the high costs of labour going forward in the future," she said.

"The numbers certainly show it being sustainable and viable for our business going forward."

Mrs Koch was one of three Victorian dairy farmers  selected to attend the EDP as a scholarship recipient of the Gardiner Dairy Foundation, in conjunction with Victorian Dairy Industry Regional Development Programs.

The Executive Development Program has been run by Rabobank for farmers since 1999, with more than 750 of Australia and New Zealand’s most progressive farmers now graduates of the program.