Land of opportunity

By Country News

Longwarry farmer believes industry is what you make it.

Some people’s milk glass is half empty when it comes to the dairy industry. John Versteden is not one those people.

With wife Lyn, Mr Versteden has built a business and lifestyle from scratch that he believes could not have happened in any other industry.

“I’ve always said I can’t think of another thing I could’ve done in life that would have put us in the position that we’re in financially or lifestyle-wise,” he said.

Sitting in a home he built himself on a hill above the Longwarry flats, the 57-year-old can be rightly proud of what the family has achieved since arriving on the farm in 1984 with little farming knowledge.

While it was nothing but hard work for the first few years while they got the farm established, the Verstedens have always been careful to balance the needs of the business with the needs of their family and lifestyle.

“We are in control of things, we are business-focused, but not so business focused that we don’t have a holiday each year,” Mr Versteden said.

“We probably didn’t come here thinking of it as a business. It was more of a lifestyle thing for us.

“There were a lot of things about it that were intrinsic to our personalities and the business side of things and all the rest was just development.”

Now with 650 Aussie Red/Friesian/Jersey cows (down from 700 because of the milk price drop) on 190ha, Mr Versteden has built a reputation as a premium dairy farmer.

For a carpenter who knew nothing more about the business than how to milk a cow, he had to quickly work out what the fundamentals of dairy farming were and how to master them as quickly as possible.

“The key focus for me has always been around grass. You can do the numbers any way you like, but grass costs us about $120/tonne dry matter. Everything else costs double that.

“I think farmers have forgotten they are grass farmers and have turned themselves into grain farmers. People are bragging that they’re feeding two tonnes of grain.

“That’s nothing to brag about — it’s stupid.”

While he has strong opinions on the industry and farming methods, Mr Versteden isn’t one to sit on the sidelines and point out another’s failings. Few people are more actively involved in the development of the industry and the support of farmers.

A quick rundown of his resume includes current positions as vice-president of UDV, chair of People Development Council and chair of the People and Human Capacity Policy Advisory Group for Australian Dairy Farmers. He’s also served two terms as chair of GippsDairy after an extended period as a director.

It’s a commitment to the industry that has sometimes come at a cost to Mr Versteden’s own business, but it’s a cost he has been willing to wear for the betterment of dairy farmers and for his own personal development.

It’s also a reflection of how he feels about an industry that has offered such a large dividend for the hard work he has invested in it.

“I just love the industry, I absolutely love it,” he said.

“The opportunity for young people is really good and everyone has the same capability to achieve.

“Whether or not they realise that potential is up to them.”