14 March 2018
The major winners in the 2018 Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards, Reece and Natasha Cox, believe they have age on their side when it comes to growing their business and achieving their goals.
The couple were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year competition at the Bay Of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Awakeri Events Centre last night. The other big winners were Bridie Virbickas, who was named the 2018 Bay Of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year, and Zoe Gleeson, the 2018 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year.
Reece and Natasha Cox, are Contract Milking 700 cows for David and Lesley Jensen on their 240ha Tauranga farm and won $12,823 in prizes and five merit awards.
The couple both grew up in farming environments and enjoy the outdoors and the farming lifestyle. “It’s a challenging but very rewarding career,” says Reece. “I’m proud that we have moved up through the industry through hard work.”
Reece (25) joined the dairy industry in 2011 as a Dairy Assistant, progressing to Manager by 21 years of age. He and Natasha (28) are in their first season contract milking.
“I have been teaching for the past seven years, and this is my first season working on the farm,” says Natasha. “I’m expecting our first child in April.”
The couple say the one of the strengths of their business lies with the farm owners. “David and Lesley are so supportive. They understand our future business goals and are prepared to help us reach them.”
Their goal is to build equity through a profitable and sustainable business, which will provide the foundation on which to purchase their own farm. “We’re at a good age to start a business, as we have the time to expand and reach our future goals,” the couple say.
The Cox’s entered the awards to build their confidence, test their skills and knowledge and learn more about the dairy industry.
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors Westpac, DairyNZ, DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda Motorcycles, LIC, Meridian Energy, New Zealand Farm Source and Ravensdown, along with industry partner Primary ITO.
Runners-up in the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year competition were Michael and Kylie Thorne, who won $5,600 in prizes.
The couple are Contract Milkers on Wilma and Ian Foster’s 85ha Pukehina farm, milking 210 cows.
The first-time entrants entered the Awards to gain experience and insight into how to improve their operations. “It was also a great motivator to get stuff done!” says Michael.
Previously a secondary school teacher, Michael made the career change to the dairy industry five years ago, with Kylie leaving the legal and property team at Western Bay of Plenty District Council and joining him full-time this season.
“It’s always been a goal to become self-employed and as much as I loved teaching, I was looking for something outdoors and physical,” Michael explains. “I love working dogs and managing pasture, as well as problem-solving on the go and tinkering to construct things to make the job easier.”
The couple say one of their strengths is resilience and the ability to cover for each other in adverse events. “We have open and honest communication with everyone we deal with, particularly our farm owners.”
2018 Bay of Plenty Share Farmer third placegetters were Baljinder Singh and Gagandeep Kaur who are Contract Milkers for Andrew and Jackie Siemelink on their 112ha Te Puke property, milking 460 cows.
The couple say hard work and honesty have stood them in good stead so far in their career, and they hope to gain a sharemilking position in another two seasons, with farm ownership their ultimate goal.
The winner of the 2018 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year competition loves animals and the outdoors, and has always wanted to be involved in the agricultural industry in some way.
Bridie Virbickas won $6,975 in prizes plus five merit awards, and is Farm Manager for Bernard and Linda Virbickas on their 58ha farm, milking 235 cows in Whakatane. She was runner-up in the 2017 Dairy Manager competition.
The 27-year-old holds a Bachelor in Agricultural Science from Massey University and worked as a fertiliser rep for Balance Agri-Nutrients for three years, before leading the North Island Farm Sustainability team.
Bridie believes family is a strength of her business. “It’s a family-orientated business, so we are all working towards the same goal,” she says. “The close proximity of the four farms within the business means the farms can work together at different times of the year.”
Opotiki farm manager Jessica Judd, aged 29 years, was second in the Dairy Manager competition, winning $2,490 in prizes. Jessica holds a National Diploma in Agriculture Production Management and is a member of the NZ Holstein Friesian group.
Jessica is Farm Manager for Alan Baird and Sandie Redpath-Baird on their 58ha property, milking 155 cows. She sees a strong relationship with the farm owners as a vital component to running an efficient farm.
37-year-old Otakiri Farm Manager Jamie Croad placed third and won $1,825 in prizes. Jamie works on Bruce and Judy Woods’ 142ha farm, milking 420 cows.
A qualified welder/fabricator, Jamie changed careers 11 years ago, beginning in the dairy industry as a farm assistant. “It was the right time for a change in my life,” he explains. “I love being outdoors and working with animals, as well as the community aspect.”
He believes the good on-farm infrastructure and a farm owner who wants them to progress in the dairy industry makes farming more enjoyable. Together with his wife Debbie, they include their children in farming where possible.
First-time entrant Zoe Gleeson is the 2018 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year. Zoe heard about the Awards and decided to enter and “give it a go”.
“This is my first year as a full-time farm assistant,” explains Zoe. “I followed my husband into the industry four years ago, and have always been the relief staff.”
“I didn’t consider farming a career until this position where I’ve discovered a whole different side of the dairy industry and I’ve realised it can offer me a satisfying career and a lifestyle I am happy to raise our child in.”
The 25-year-old is Farm Assistant for Margaret Wright on her 450-cow, 220ha property at Whakatane and won $6,180 in prizes.
Taking responsibility of one of their herd’s pasture management is something Zoe is proud of achieving. “I knew nothing-to-very-little about pasture management at the start of the season, and now I can consistently maintain pasture quality and milk production,” she says.
“Farming challenges my character, intellect and ingenuity and is extremely fulfilling for me.”
Runner-up for the second consecutive year in the Dairy Trainee competition was 20-year-old Kaimai Herd Manager Joseph Braybrook, who won $1,340 in prizes.
“Despite the challenges of extremely bad weather which caused some stress, I still love what I do for a job,” he says. “I love the variety of different jobs and that every day is different.” Joseph is herd manager for Glen Ashford on his 580-cow, 325ha property.
Third place in the Dairy Trainee competition went to 20-year-old Herd Manager Alex Sainty, who won $1,260 in prizes. He works on Peter Overdevest’s 146ha, 380-cow Galatea farm.
Alex believes the main benefits of the Awards programme was the confidence he has gained. “It definitely helped me grow as a person, and grow my career.”
The Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on April 05 at 504 Taumata Road Tauranga where Share Farmers of the Year, Reece and Natasha Cox, contract milk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Bridie Virbickas and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Zoe Gleeson. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz.
Share Farmer Merit Awards:
• DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Reece and Natasha Cox
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Reece and Natasha Cox
• Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Cameron and Jessica Lea
• Honda Farm Safety and Health Award – Reece and Natasha Cox
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Reece and Natasha Cox
• Meridian Energy Farm Environment Award – Michael and Kylie Thorne
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Cameron and Jessica Lea
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Reece and Natasha Cox
Dairy Manager Merit Awards:
• BOP Regional Council Most Promising Entrant Award - Jamie Croad
• The Business Results Group Employee Engagement Award – Bridie Virbickas
• The Wrangler Ltd Feed Management Award - Bridie Virbickas
• BlackmanSpargo Rural Law Ltd Leadership Award – Bridie Virbickas
• Fonterra Farm Source Dairy Management Award - Bridie Virbickas
• DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Jessica Judd
• Primary ITO Power Play Award – Bridie Virbickas
• Westpac Financial Management & Planning Award – Kelsey Weld
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
• Veterinary Health Centre Most Promising Entrant Award– Willy Akuhata
• Agrismart Ltd Farming Knowledge Award – Alex Sainty
• Haddock Spraypainters & Panelbeaters Ltd Communication & Engagement Award – Justin Bell
• Spray Solutions Ltd Community & Industry Involvement Award - Joseph Braybrook
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Logan Tipper