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Winners of 2020 Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards use past experiences to move forward

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Winners of 2020 Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards use past experiences to move forward

14 March 2020

The 2020 Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmer of the Year winners believe the strength of their fourth-generation pure Jersey herd is their biggest asset and believe it will create further value to their business in the coming years.

Simon and Natasha Wilkes were named the 2020 Taranaki Share Farmers of the Year at the region’s annual awards dinner held at the TSB Hub in Hawera on Saturday night and won $11,746 in prizes and three merit awards. The other major winners were the 2020 Taranaki Dairy Manager of the Year Branden Darlow, and the 2020 Taranaki Dairy Trainee of the Year, Sam Dodd.

The Wilkes have tasted success in the Dairy Industry Awards previously, with Simon placing third in the 2015 Manawatu Farm Manager category. “This is Simon’s fifth time entering and our first as a couple,” explains Natasha. “After coming back to the family farm in 2018 and having our twin boys, the Awards have been our first opportunity to pop our heads up, look back and scrutinize every aspect of our business.”

Simon and Natasha identify their herd as one of their biggest strengths. “Our herd is really special to us. As a fourth-generation herd it means a lot to be keeping the cows in the family.”

“Our herd’s BW of 196 and PW of 207 places it in the top 1% in New Zealand and we have contract cows with LIC and previous bulls in the premier sire team,” say the couple.

“Our herd is our biggest asset and we are looking forward to using this to create further value to our business over the coming years.”

One of their initial livestock goals was to compact their calving spread by shortening the mating period over the next five years. “Our first season we reduced our mating by 2 weeks to 11 weeks and we will continue to reduce our calving spread by a week each year until mating is 7 weeks AI,” explains Simon.

“This season mating was reduced a further week to 10 weeks and our 6 week in-calf rate improved by 10% to 72%,” he says. “This season we are milking 20 less cows and our milk production is 4% ahead of last year.”

The Wilkes are 50/50 herd-owning sharemilkers on Morris and Debbie Bourke’s 320-cow, 84ha Hawera property. They both hold a New Zealand Certificate in Small Business Level 4 with Simon (30) also holding the PrimaryITO Milk Quality Level 2 and is currently completing a Bachelor of Science majoring in Agriculture through Massey University. Natasha (29) also holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Human Nutrition, and a Master of Dietetics.

The Wilkes acknowledge the property has old pastures and have implement a regressing programmed using chicory as a summer crop to renovate all pasture within seven years.

Balancing life with twin boys (now aged 1) and farming has been a different challenge for the couple who use their sons as motivation to succeed. “We want to give them the best childhood as they grow up on the farm,” they say.

“We love that the dairy industry is an ever-evolving industry that is science-based. It’s a unique industry where each business is different and there are so many ways to farm,” say the Wilkes.

“We all have something that we can offer to help others in the industry and that’s what we are passionate about doing in the future.”

Runner-up in the Taranaki Share Farmer of the Year competition were Philip and Pia Rockell who won $5,750 in prizes and two merit awards.

The New Plymouth 50/50 Sharemilkers work on Kevin and Heather Zimmerman’s 74ha property, milking 210 cows.

The third-time Dairy Industry Award entrants decided to enter as they are new to the region and want to expand their network. “We’re in our first sharemilking position so we felt it was a good opportunity to dive deep into our business and benchmark ourselves.”

Philip holds a Diploma in Agriculture from Massey University while Pia holds a Diploma in Agribusiness and has been involved with Dairy Women’s Network since 2015 as a regional leader.

They have been farming together since 2001 and together have faced low pay-outs, the GFC and quite a few climatic challenges ranging from severe drought through to floods.

“Being herd owners is a real source of pride to us as is reaching our goal of herd-owning sharemilkers two years faster than planned,” say the couple. “We have made some great improvements to the herd’s reproductive performance in the last two years.”

“Being part of the Lower North Partner Farm project in Northland for two seasons gave us access to some of the most successful and experienced farmers in Northland and was a great opportunity to learn from them.”

Third placegetters in the Share Farmer category were Josh and Carly Corrigan who are 100% sharemilkers and farm lessees on Fiona Corrigan’s 234ha Hawera property, milking 360 cows. They won $3,275 in prizes and three merit awards.

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 Dairy NZ and Primary ITO.

Winner of the 2020 Taranaki Dairy Manager of the Year competition was 24-year-old Branden Darlow. He won $7,288 in prizes and two merit awards.

Branden is currently Farm Manager for Trevor Jane on his 152.7ha, 401-cow Inglewood property. The former motorbike mechanic began his career in the dairy industry in five years ago when he helped a farmer fix his motorbikes and was offered a position as a casual milker and has steadily progressed through the industry.

“I don’t really think I chose farming as a career; I believe farming chose me,” says Branden. “I love the outdoors and nature and am passionate about animals. I also love challenging myself constantly and enjoy all the opportunities to grow that exist in this industry.

“Learning how to handle my time and work-life balance has been a big challenge as has recovering from injuries.”

Branden is proud he has completed his PrimaryITO Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Agriculture, Pastoral Livestock Production and is currently completing Level 4. “They have been a big challenge but I would like to go for my Level 5.”

One of the strengths of the business he works for is animal welfare. “We are 100% orientated in the health of the animals and take the very best care of them,” says Branden. “We also focus 100% on being environmentally conscious and not only follow all the regulations but also give a little more.”

“It’s very important for us to take care of the environment and help put the industry in a better light.”

29-year-old Leroy Hunt placed second in the Dairy Manager category, winning $3,725 in prizes and three merit awards. Leroy works on Hugh and Christine Cameron’s 253-cow, 73ha property.

Leroy entered the Awards after being encouraged to do by his farm owner, community members and his DairyNZ rep. “I love working with cows and putting in my best efforts to achieve targets.”

The Hawera Herd Manager is proud of the grade-free seasons and of exceeding production targets. He credits his farm owners as one of the biggest strengths of the business. “They are very encouraging and supportive, both on and off farm.”

Third in the Dairy Manager category was Diego Raul Gomez Salinas, who won $1,875 in prizes and two merit awards. Diego (32) is currently Farm Manager on Michael Burr’s 142ha, 400-cow Hawera property and was Runner-up in the same category in 2018.

A former professor and researcher in an Argentinian University, Diego came to New Zealand in 2009 to learn about the dairy industry. “Dairy farming is such a complex industry. You can be involved in completely different and challenging scenarios year after year, even if you stay on the same farm for a long time.”

“The New Zealand dairy industry allows everyone who want to be a part of it to grow.”

The winner of the 2020 Taranaki Dairy Trainee of the Year category was third placegetter in the same category last year and says dairy farming saved his life.

Sam Dodd says through some bad life choices he found himself living on the home farm. “This is when I fell in love with farming.”

The 23-year-old is 2IC on Mike and Viv Joyce’s property, on their 110ha, 370-cow farm in Hawera. He won $7,753 in prizes and two merit awards.

Sam believes entering the Awards have helped him with networking within the industry. “The Awards helped me benchmark myself practically and mentally and have been a great learning opportunity.

“I’m really proud of being placed third in Dairy Trainee category last year as I had only been working in the dairy industry for two years,” says Sam.

“I’ve overcome mental and physical setbacks when I required surgery during mating and at the end of calving.”

Assistant Herd Manager Meek Cawili, aged 25 years, placed second in the Dairy Trainee category, and won $2,600 in prizes and one merit award. Meek works on Grant Pease’s 75ha Eltham property milking 250 cows.

Meek acknowledges his biggest challenge during his first year working has been understanding cultural differences between his home country of Philippines and New Zealand. “With the help of mentors and colleagues I’ve overcome, and now understand how to get along with the conditions of farming here in New Zealand.”

Kate Thomson was third placegetter. The 23-year-old is Farm Assistant on Jo Gibb’s 234-cow, 70ha Patea farm. She won $2,300 in prizes.

The Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards field day will be held at 10.30am on 06 April 2020 at 153 Rainie Road, Hawera, S/N 41856 where Taranaki Share Farmers of the Year, Simon and Natasha Wilkes sharemilk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Dairy Trainee of the Year, Branden Darlow and the Taranaki Dairy Trainee of the Year Sam Dodds. 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 – Simon and Natasha Wilkes
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Philip and Pia Rockell
• Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Josh and Carly Corrigan
• Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award – Josh and Carly Corrigan
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Simon and Natasha Wilkes
• Meridian Farm Environment Award – Philip and Pia Rockell
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Josh and Carly Corrigan
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Simon and Natasha Wilkes

Dairy Manager Merit Awards:

• Taranaki DIA Encouragement Award – Manpreet Singh
• BakerTilly Staples Rodway Employee Engagement Award – Diego Raul Gomez Salinas
• SHARE Leadership Award – Leroy Hunt
• Bayleys Real Estate Taranaki Feed Management Award – Leroy Hunt
• DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Leroy Hunt
• Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Branden Darlow
• PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Branden Darlow
• Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Diego Raul Gomez Salinas

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:

• Taranaki DIA Most Promising Entrant Award – Logan Stevenson
• I.S Dam Lining Ltd Farming Knowledge Award – Calum Black
• Primo Wireless Community and Industry Involvement Award – Meek Cawili
• Taranaki DIA Communication and Engagement Award – Sam Dodd
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Sam Dodd