Peter and Di Wastenage
Wastenage Farms, Budleigh Salterton, Devon
Devon dairy farmers Peter and Di Wastenage have created a simple low-cost template that belies the extraordinary attention to detail, business focus and thirst for knowledge that underpins this dynamic duo.
Peter and Di are delivering extraordinary results, inspiring new ways of thinking and encouraging others to join their journey.
- Four herds totaling 1,090 cows
- A total of 645ha with 360ha owned and the rest tenanted
- Breeding their own replacements
- Achieving 3,520 litres a cow from forage
- Members of the South Hams Dairy Co-op
- Strong business performance and growth
- Clear targets to achieve high profitability
- Thinking outside the box to lower production costs
- Mentoring/training others to succeed
- Actively seeking new knowledge
- Sharing their success with others
- 2014 Best Dairy Farmer Award
- FWAG Bronze Otter Award
The growth of their business in a relatively short time has been phenomenal, which is testament to their energy, drive and business acumen. Yet Peter and Di still find time to help other farming businesses and mentor new talent entering the industry.
The entrepreneurial husband-and-wife team have created a dairy model that is being rolled out across four – soon to be five – farms.
They have adapted a New Zealand-style grazing system to suit their local conditions and matched it to good genetics.
The net results are exceptional, with the whole business returning 30% profits last year.
But it’s the detailed figures that make you sit up and think – start-up costs of just £1,000 a cow, 3,520 litres from forage, low replacement rates at just 15%, a low cost of production and a 10% return on investment.
The key has been finding the right scale, which they have determined is about 250 cows on a 120ha unit. Their high output from grassland production hasn’t compromised herd health and welfare.
All the more impressive are the consistent results in productivity and profitability across all four dairy businesses, which are on different soil types and run by different managers.
Such consistency requires superb management and it is clear when you meet this engaging couple that this side of their very broad set of skills is one of the reasons they are so successful.
Their story started in the early 1990s when Peter returned home from Seale Hayne College. The family tackled succession straight away – with his parents and sister he worked out what each wanted to achieve from the home farm. It meant everyone could plan for the future.
“Peter and Di are a shining beacon for the future of UK family farms. Despite the phenomenal growth of their own dairy business, they find time to mentor and motivate others to share in their success”
Debbie Beaton, Farmers Weekly editorial projects director
“They are developing new standards for the industry – principles that can be applied across all farming sectors. They are learning from others and using research to inform and update their systems”
Poul Hoveson, 2014 Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year
“The production they achieve off well-managed grassland is amazing – 3,520 litres. Enabled to set up a dairy unit investment of £1,000 cow. Use natural resources well. Responsibility given to herd managers – yet with support and direction”
Meurig Raymond, NFU president
Peter still farms in partnership with his mum and sister at their home dairy farm. It was here he started cross-breeding cows, using minimal inputs and paddock-grazing 365 days/year.
Wastenage Farms was set up by Peter and Di using very little capital. They used cow hiring leasing, contract farming agreements and tenancies to become established.
An injection of cash from supplying vegetables to Riverford Organics on tenanted land helped them buy their first farm.
Their aim – to create a profitable commercial dairy that not only enhance the environment but also provide excellent working conditions for both family members and employees alike – is being fulfilled.
Today the business comprises a total of 645ha and 1,090 cows across four units, with 360ha owned and the rest tenanted.
A key target in establishing each of the new dairies, whether built on a green field site or existing dairy holding, is return on capital rather than conventional margins.
They budget £1,000 a cow, which includes the parlour, dairy, tracks, water, fences and slurry system.
“This is to make sure we are investing as much as we can in appreciating, rather than depreciating, assets,” says Peter.
They constantly seek information to improve their efficiency. Business costs are analysed monthly against budget and each dairy is compared with the others as well as benchmarked against other farms.
They are members of the South Hams Dairy Co-operative, which Peter chaired until recently. He was also chairman of Exeter NFU and a member of the NFU SW Dairy Committee.
The cows on all four units are grazed year round on grass and fodder beet.
Grass growth is recorded by each herdsman every week to ensure effective growth and use and identify any shortfalls, or opportunities for silage. The target is 14t DM/ha from grass. Annual average cake usage is 1t a cow.
Milk production and cow performance are under constant scrutiny. New Zealand Friesian and Scandinavian Reds are cross-bred with Jerseys, used on all first-calving heifers.
The bulls are selected on management traits, milk composition and excellent forage conversion.
Cows average seven lactations and animal medicine bills are about 0.5p/litre. Areas of the farm and margins are left for wildlife and they have planted wild bird seed plots and clover in grass seed mixes to cut nitrogen use. Hedges are cut every two to three years.
Peter and Di work hard to attract good employees. They employ locally to their respective dairies, selecting people who share their passion and enthusiasm for their type of management system. They believe their staff are their most valuable asset and encourage them to be involved in informing decisions across the whole business.
Once set up, each dairy herd is the responsibility of one herdsmen, where their role is to concentrate on the cows. The paperwork, invoicing, passports and inputs are picked up centrally so the herdsman has one focus – producing quality milk from grass.
They believe good wages, combined with an excellent work-life balance, are the best motivators. “It is no good earning a massive profit if you have a hideous lifestyle and can’t keep staff,” says Di.
They provide for individual training needs and each herdsman belongs to a local discussion group. They have set up a bespoke discussion group to drill down on specific topics, and each farm will invite the whole team to get involved.
They have just set up a training dairy unit to develop new managers by providing them with a real-life working environment alongside mentoring and a training programme.
They are also in talks with Duchy College and the Clinton Devon Estate to develop a management training programme.
Peter and Di constantly seek new knowledge and want to learn from other systems, so every year, with their sons, they visit other dairy businesses in the UK and overseas including the US, New Zealand and Europe.
And when it comes to showcasing their farms they have an open-door policy, hosting in excess of 500 visitors every year, from schoolchildren and local discussion groups to professionals.
Peter and Di have ambitious plans for the future, with a fifth farm already under way. The aim is to continue to keep costs of production low so they can remain “fit for the future” in any milk price climate. But balance remains fundamental.