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Mid-Coast Adaptable Dairy Farming Systems

The Mid-Coast Adaptable Dairy Farming Systems Project is an initiative of the Mid-Coast Dairy Advancement Group (MCDAG) and Hunter Local Land Services, supported by funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

The project aims to take a real life dairy farm and generate discussion on how to best manage the business, and approach risk, to improve adaptability, resilience and overall profitability.

This model of extension challenges farmer decision making and practice change on the whole farm system, and explores the outcomes of these on the triple bottom line of the farm. It provides an opportunity for farmers and industry service providers to learn through discussion and debate, and by challenging one another through the real life scenario of the local farm.

The Adaptable Dairy Farm

Neals' dairy farmThe farm that would become the focus of the project had to be a business that was challenged by external influences typical of the Mid-Coast dairy region. These include milk price structure, access to agribusiness services, grain pricing, transport and haulage costs and kikuyu and annual ryegrass pasture base.

A search was conducted for a Mid-Coast dairy farming business operated by motivated young farmers who were serious about seeking external opinion on how to best manage their business over a two year period.

Pat and Louise Neal, and their farming business on Oxley Island (approximately 20 km east of Taree), were the successful applicants. The Neals were chosen as they demonstrated a real desire to scrutinise their business decisions and to explore innovative practices which could possibly reduce their exposure to financial, environmental and personal risk.

Meet the Neals

Louise and Pat Neal

Pat and Louise Neal own and operate their farm on Oxley Island, NSW, with a year round calving herd of 390. They consider their farming system a “low input” operating system which concentrates on driving production through feeding quality home grown pasture and conserving excess, when available, by implementing a carefully managed grazing strategy.

How the project is conducted

Pat Neal on quad bikeThe Mid-Coast Adaptable Dairy Farm is a real business, making real decisions, under real conditions; what is happening on farm is relevant for many other dairy businesses on the Mid-Coast and beyond.

The intent is to focus on core financial and personal goals set at the commencement of the project through a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, lift profit and increase efficiencies through improved decision making. The progress of the farm is tracked over time as it makes daily, seasonal and longer-term business decisions. Environmental sustainability and resource efficiency outcomes are also considered when exploring broader farm business options and making decisions.

The focus farm is supported by:

  • Applying good business management principles to decision making
  • Allowing the opportunity for discussion and analysis of the risks
  • Drawing on the collective experience of an Adaptable Business Support Group
  • Monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of the decisions that are made

Adaptable Business Support Group and open days

Pat Neal with groupThe Neals recruited their own Adaptable Business Support Group (ABSG) members, made up of farmer peers and service providers, such as their accountant, finance advisor and vet, who provide guidance, encouragement and decision support to the farm. This group meets bi-monthly on the farm. It is facilitated by leading Victorian dairy consultant Phil Shannon of Shannon Farm Consulting.

Some of these meetings are open days, where other members of the dairy community can attend.

Details of farm open days will be featured in the events calendar on this site

How do you choose the right calving pattern for your business? Does calving pattern really matter?

Here's the discussion points on Choosing Calving Patterns.

Keep up to date with the project

Bookmark this page for regular updates on the project. ABSG progress reports will be uploaded here after each meeting:

Read the Neals' 2017 Fert$mart - Feriliser Management Plan here.

You can also like the project Facebook page and subscribe to the MCDAG electronic newsletter, Dairy Droppings, by sending an email to

To find out anything further on the project, please contact Marguerite White, Project Manager, ICD Project Services at or phone: 0447 500 415.