28 March 2020
The winners of the 2020 Southland-Otago Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmer of the Year category believe diversification and their excellent staff team are two major strengths of their successful business.
Sam and Karen Bennett were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category, announced via video link on the region’s Facebook page on Saturday night. The other big winners were Eugene de la Harpe who was named the 2020 Southland/Otago Dairy Manager of the Year, and Nikayla Dodd, the 2020 Southland/Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year.
The Bennetts, both aged 31 years, are contract milking 630 cows on Andrew and Jenny Calder’s 223ha farm in Wyndham. They won $10,850 in prizes plus two merit awards.
Sam and Karen both come from farming backgrounds, with Sam working as a qualified builder before entering the dairy industry in 2014. Karen trained and worked as an A.I technician while studying towards her Degree in Science, (majoring in Animal Science). She has been the Southland area Fertilizer New Zealand representative for the past nine years.
“We went contract milking in 2016, and are currently contract milking two separate farms,” says Sam. “Diversification is a key strength of our business. As well as running two farms, we have also diversified into investment properties which helps reduce any risk.”
“Purchasing four investment properties was a huge achievement for us. We’re also proud we achieved our goal of record milk solid production on one of our farms, which was a massive accomplishment for us and our team.”
The Bennetts acknowledge there have been challenges to overcome, with their biggest being the flooding from the Matarua River at the beginning of February.
“We’ve never experienced flooding this bad. Dealing with the aftermath was very challenging as we had 100 hectares go under water which meant we had 100 hectares to clean up afterwards,” they say.
“Rural support was fantastic and we were extremely grateful to receive help from volunteers in the Farmy Army!”
Sam and Karen are first-time entrants to the Awards and say they have always wanted to enter however never got around to it because there has never been a ‘right’ time. “In our fourth year of contract milking we realised there will never be a ‘right’ time, so we just did it!”
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian Energy, Ravensdown and Westpac along with industry partners DairyNZ and Primary ITO.
Runners-up in the Southland-Otago category went to Cameron and Cassandra Spencer, aged 31 years and 27 years respectively, who won $6,000 in prizes and two merit awards.
The first-time entrants are 50/50 sharemilkers for New Zealand Rural Property Trust on a 141ha, 420-cow property in Otautau.
“We entered the Awards as we believe in always working on your business and trying to improve it as well as ourselves,” explain the couple. “This was the perfect opportunity to consolidate all our work on our business.”
“It was also something that scared us, challenged us and pushed us outside our comfort zone.”
Cameron identified farming as a passion from an early age, despite not growing up on a farm. He left school at 15 years old to pursue a career in the dairy industry. A former travel agent, Cassandra embraced dairying as a full-time career when she met Cameron.
“We love the flexibility and freedom of running our own business, investing our time and effort into our staff and watching them grow and succeed in this industry,” the couple say.
“The opportunities for growth are endless and we enjoy the challenge and the journey.”
Third place went to Craig McGregor and Olivia Gorton, who won $4000 in prizes and two merit awards.
Craig and Olivia contract milk for Jamie McConachie, Jared Collie, Jerry Excel and Paddy Thornton’s 245ha farm at Drummond, where they milk 860 cows.
Craig has been dairy farming for 13 years and grew up on dairy farms throughout Southland. Olivia is a registered nurse and was introduced to the dairy industry when she met Craig. The couple saw entering the Awards as a great learning opportunity and experience.
36-year-old Eugene de la Harpe was named the winner of the Southland/Otago Dairy Manager of the Year category.
Eugene won $8850 in prizes plus three merit awards and is the Farm Manager for Robert O’Callaghan on his 200ha, 600-cow Dipton West property.
“The Awards are a great experience. I have met heaps of people in the same industry with a passion for dairy farming.”
Eugene believes a strength of his business is a strong focus on animal health. “The better your animal health is the better everything else is. It all just falls into place.”
Eugene is in his fifth season in the New Zealand dairy industry. “I was farming in my younger days in South Africa but changed my career to civil engineering. I always wanted to go back to follow my passion as a farmer and then I got an opportunity to do so in New Zealand.”
“The biggest challenge has been leaving family and friends behind in South Africa to follow my career,” he says. “I needed to give my two children a better and safer future.”
Invercargill Farm Manager Gonzalo Bascur, aged 30 years, was second in the Dairy Manager category, winning $4,900 in prizes and two merit awards.
Gonzalo grew up in a farm environment in Chile and has always enjoyed working with animals. “What I love the most is that I can have interaction with animals and make a difference in their well-being.”
Currently working for Gerald and Mark Spain on their 228ha property milking 710 cows, Gonzalo believes one of the strengths of the business lies in strong human resources. “The team I work with is engaged, not only with what we do in a day but also with the seasonal goals of the farm.”
“We offer the opportunity to grow within the industry whether it is with training or progressing into a position.”
25-year-old Tapanui Farm Manager Carol Booth placed third and won $3,000 in prizes and two merit awards. Carol works on Matthew Haugh’s 290ha farm, milking 980 cows.
The first-time entrant saw the Awards as an opportunity to put herself to the test and to improve her public speaking. “I now know where my strengths and weaknesses are and can improve my knowledge in the dairy industry.”
Carol holds a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) from Scotland’s Rural University College and sees her staff team as a strength of the business. “Having a friendly team environment with a low staff-turnover gives an improved work environment and work efficiency.”
“The dairy farm has been established for 25 years meaning I get to work for leaders with a big bank of knowledge,” she says. “That allows me to learn and progress in the industry.”
The 2020 Southland-Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year is Nikayla Dodd who entered the Awards to challenge and push herself in the industry. She is in her first season in the dairy industry.
Growing up on a sheep and beef farm, Nikayla is a former veterinary nurse and technician. She chose dairy farming as wanted to work in an industry that provides a range of opportunities to grow.
The 24-year-old is 2IC for Andrew and Catherine McGregor on their 160ha Gore property, milking 420 cows. She won $7,000 in prizes and one merit award.
Future farming goals include working towards management in the short-term with a long-term goal of contract or share milking.
Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was 19-year-old Woodlands Farm Assistant Jakeb Lawson who won $2,500 in prizes. Eilish works on Eoin and Jayne McKenzie’s 300ha, 700-cow farm.
Jakeb entered the Awards to step outside his comfort zone and improve his interview skills.
Off-farm, Jakeb keeps busy with rugby, water and snow sports. He has achieved PrimaryITO Milk Quality and Effluent Management Level 3 and is studying towards Animal Husbandry.
Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 22-year-old 2IC Josh Cochrane who won $1,500 in prizes and one merit award. Hayden works for Roddy MacInnes on his 140ha, 520-cow farm in Winton.
Share Farmer Merit Awards:
• DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Miguel Ortiz and Maka Morales
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Samuel and Karen Bennett
• Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Matt and Sarah McKenzie
• Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award – Craig McGregor and Olivia Gorton
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Cameron and Cassandra Spencer
• Meridian Farm Environment Award – Craig McGregor and Olivia Gorton
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Cameron and Cassandra Spencer
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Samuel and Karen Bennett
Dairy Manager Merit Awards:
• Landpro Most Promising Entrant – Cole Henwood
• Shand Thomson Encouragement Award – Kayleigh Cleary
• McIntyre Dick and Partners Employee Engagement Award – Gonzalo Bascur
• FMG Leadership Award – Carol Booth
• Vetsouth Feed Management Award – Eugene de la Harpe
• DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Carol Booth
• Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Eugene de la Harpe
• PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Eugene de la Harpe
• Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Gonzalo Bascur
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
• AWS Most Promising Entrant Award – Nicole Barber
• MilkMap Farming Knowledge Award – Josh Cochrane
• Agricentre South Community and Industry Involvement Award – Krishan Ranui Dick Karetai
• Advance Agriculture Communication and Engagement Award – Nicole Coulter
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Nikayla Dodd