11 March 2020
The major winners in the 2020 Waikato Dairy Industry Awards were runners-up in the same category last year and used that experience to refine their plan to achieve their goals in their business.
Sarah and Aidan Stevenson were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the Waikato Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Sir Don Rowlands Centre at Karapiro on Wednesday evening. The other big winners were Daisy Higgs, who became the 2020 Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year, and Grace Gibberd, the 2020 Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year.
“Last year we learnt a lot about our business and identified our strengths and weaknesses,” says Sarah (31). “The Awards process has given us so many networking opportunities and new contacts.”
The Stevenson’s have been 50/50 sharemilking for Sue Williams on her 100ha, 330-cow Ngarua property since 2013. They won 12,350 in prizes and five merit awards.
The couple have learnt from their challenges along the way and now graze all calves on-farm. “It’s very hard to find a good grazier for calves who ensures they reach target liveweights,” explains Aidan (31).
“After discovering a few years ago that zinc through the dosatron wasn’t enough to prevent facial eczema, we now spray for spores when they are starting to rise and haven’t had a problem since.”
Aidan moved to the dairy industry from building in 2011 and has completed PrimaryITO Level 4. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting and Commercial Law and has been a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand since 2014. She is currently on maternity leave from her part-time off-farm position, after the couple welcomed Zac (9 months) to their family, a little brother for Emily (5) and Jacob (4).
The Stevensons believe the strengths of their business lie in drawing on their previous careers and life experience. They have a strong financial understanding and background, thanks to Sarah’s chartered accountant experience.
“Aidan’s skills in building means we can consider diversified investments outside of the dairy industry, such as housing,” says Sarah.
The couple are very proud they achieved a breeding goal when their first contract bull was purchased by LIC in December 2017 and he was marketed in the 2019 genomic Friesian bull team.
Sarah and Aidan love working outside with animals and enjoy the lifestyle farming offers their family. Future farming goals include a bigger sharemilking position leading to the ultimate goal of farm ownership.
Matamata 50/50 Sharemilkers Hayden and Kate MacPhail were runners-up in the Share Farmer category, winning $5,725 in prizes and two merit awards. They work on Nola Broomhall’s 62ha property, milking 205 cows.
The first-time entrants entered the Awards to challenge themselves and learn more about their business.
After growing up on a dairy farm, Hayden (34) qualified as a petrol mechanic before entering the dairy industry in 2012. “I was given the opportunity to come to the family farm and the timing was right,” he says. “I have always had farming in my blood.”
Hayden also holds a National Certificate in Agriculture (Dairy) and a Diploma in Financial Planning, with Kate (32) holding a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning.
The couple acknowledge changing careers and becoming self-employed was challenging, as was learning to manage staff. Now in their eighth grade-free season, the MacPhails are proud of their herd quality and low-maintenance animals.
“One of our strengths is that we understand the stock, the land and machinery and in turn knowing how to farm efficiently and sustainably,” they say.
“We communicate positively and effectively with farm owners and other rural professionals. We gain great satisfaction from building relationships and supporting those around us that need it.”
James and Kirsty Dallinger placed third in the Share Farmer category. The couple are sharemilking on Tony and Rosie Dallinger 208ha Tirau farm, milking 590 cows. They won $3,730 in prizes and two merit awards.
Both James and Kirsty grew up in farming families and tried their hand at other careers before entering the dairy industry five years ago. James (34) was an electrician who represented New Zealand in rowing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while Kirsty spent 16 years working in Human Resources in New Zealand, Australia and England. She is currently Change Manager for Fonterra in the Farm Source division.
“We were drawn to continue the family legacy on this incredible land and the appeal of waking up and working for yourself is hard not to love,” say the couple. “In farming, you are doing something different everyday and there is always a new problem to solve. Farming is never mundane.”
The experience of living in poor housing with a new-born baby when first beginning in the dairy industry has stayed with the Dallingers and influenced their philosophy of how they run their business.
“James has a timesheet from his time as a dairy assistant with so many hours on it, we’ve kept it as a souvenir to remind us how far we have come,” says Kirsty (36).
“We are committed to maintaining a ‘workers’ perspective. This means we work hard on our housing, rosters and hours and we establish what each person wants from their job and work alongside them to help make that happen.”
The challenge of plunging into calving from a ‘normal job’ emphasised the fatigue and how isolating that fatigue can be. “It’s a tough transition to find the balance but we now ensure rest is planned before fatigue sets in.”
“Our passion is people and technology in farming and we believe that these two things working together make farming a more attractive offering as a career and as a business.”
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DairyNZ, DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown and Westpac along with industry partners DairyNZ and Primary ITO.
The winner of the 2020 Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year category grew up in England and had very little exposure to rural life until emigrating to New Zealand with her family in 2004.
Daisy Higgs, who won $8,695 in prizes and two merit awards, is Farm Manager for Gavin and Maree Haddon’s 91ha farm, milking 300 cows in Morrinsville. She was runner-up in the 2019 Waikato Dairy Manager category.
“When we moved to Taranaki we were surrounded by dairy farms and I knew I wanted a job involving the care of animals,” says Daisy. “It was definitely hard not coming from an agricultural background, but it just means you have to work extra hard to learn skills that a kid growing up on a farm would already have.”
“I love being outside, being active, working with animals and seeing the results through improved health or mating results.”
Daisy holds a Bachelor of Agriculture and Animal Science from Massey University, and has completed Primary ITO Level 4 and Production Management Level 5. She is currently studying towards her Diploma in Agriculture.
Daisy has held the responsibility of ensuring the cows were in good condition leading up to mating and is proud of the results. “This season mating has improved dramatically, going from an empty rate of 20% to 12% to 7% this season,” she says.
“I put the heifers on OAD and this made a huge difference. It’s so important to look after your young stock.”
Daisy is also proud of the lowest-ever cell count which has helped with production and costs. “We are on-track for our under 100,000 SCC goal.”
The 24-year-old believes one of the strengths of the business lies in animal welfare and health which is top-priority on farm. “All staff are confident and can identify health cases such as lameness and mastitis, so they are picked up and treated immediately,” she says.
“Our mastitis cases have dropped dramatically this season which has also assisted us in improving the season’s production.”
“Our farm philosophy is to be as profitable as possible through increasing production. Aim to achieve this by growing more feed on farm and decreasing supplement use.”
Future farming goals include contract milking then sharemilking before moving into farm ownership with her partner Charlie, on his family farm in Kaponga. “We would like to implement the practices and knowledge I have gained working on various other farms to further enhance the already established family farm business.
Cambridge Farm Manager Sam Guise, aged 27 years, was runner-up in the Dairy Manager category, winning $3,925 in prizes and two merit awards. He works on Kevin and Gillian Monks 300ha, 860-cow property.
The first-time entrant was happy to enter the Awards when encouraged to do so by his employer. “It’s a great way to further my career in the industry and it’s important to take the opportunities as they are presented.”
“I left to school to work as a farm assistant, and after sustaining a bad leg injury I went contract tractor driving for two years,” explains Sam.
“Re-entering the dairy industry after injury has been challenging however it’s only made me stronger and more motivated to progress in my career and keep doing what I enjoy.”
Family time is very important to Sam who, together with his fiancée Samantha, has three young children aged 3, 5 and 6 years. “I love cars and fixing stuff. I built a drift car and really enjoy getting out on track.”
Sam is proud of the impact his management has had on milk quality and the effective management of pasture on the peat soil resulting in no soil damage this season. “That was followed up by grazing with great residuals and managing surplus feed.”
Sam believes staff who enjoy what they do and strive to do everything to high standards is one of the farm’s biggest strengths. “We bring our A game every day.”
24-year-old Farm Manager Aidan Drake placed third and won $2,075 in prizes and three merit awards. Aidan works on Jason Rynbeck’s 205ha Orini farm, milking 620 cows.
This is the first time Aidan has entered the Awards and he has relished the opportunities to challenge himself. “I have a passion for the dairy industry and am always looking for ways to excel.”
Aidan strongly believes in health and safety and ensures staff get home safely at the end of each day. “What I love most about dairy farming is knowing that there are opportunities to grow future farmers and career paths for our tamariki.”
Women were represented strongly in the 2020 Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year category, achieving a clean sweep of first, second and third places with 21-year-old Grace Gibberd named the winner.
Grace is Farm Assistant on the DairyNZ 115ha property at Newstead, milking 360 cows. She won $6,420 in prizes and one merit award.
“I grew up on a lifestyle block with a house cow, some beefies and a few pet sheep,” says Grace. “During my studies I worked as a farm assistant on dairy farms in Huntly and Ashburton for summer placement.”
Grace holds a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Agricultural Science and minoring in Animal Science from Massey University.
“There’s a lot of things I loved about farming such as working outdoors doing physical work, working with animals and working on the planning and management strategy side too,” she says. “I love the variety and range of tasks that farming offers.”
“Having very little on-farm experience has meant a steep learning curve to get myself up to speed with practical skills,” says Grace. “I’ve come a long way from where I started.”
“I’m really grateful for my position on one of DairyNZ’s research farms. It’s a unique opportunity which has developed and taught me so much!”
Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was 19-year-old Leah Connolly who won $2,530 in prizes.
The first-time entrant wanted to benchmark herself against other farmers who are at the same stage as herself and discover how she is tracking. “I received a lot of encouragement to give the Awards a go from my bosses, my PrimaryITO training advisor and tutors,” says Leah.
Leah has always been passionate about the dairy industry and has known it would always be her career. “I was offered a full-time position on a 280-cow dairy farm at the end of Year 11. I’m so pleased I grabbed that opportunity with both hands.”
Currently Leah works on Woolly Farm’s 110ha, 280-cow Otorohanga property, and future farming goals include progressing to Assistant Manager in the 20/21 season and completing PrimaryITO Level 5 Production Management.
Being a young, petite woman in the dairy industry has presented a few challenges for Leah. “I was waiting at the shed for an effluent inspection with council. The inspector arrived and asked if my dad was around. They were shock when I told them I was managing while the owner was away and I’d show them around!”
Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 23-year-old Farm Assistant Emma Rauhala, winning $1,500 in prizes. She also works on DairyNZ’s 115ha, 360-cow Newstead farm.
“I love how complex farming is with so many things needed to be considered,” says Emma. Besides problem solving, I also love how practical farming is and that I can wear shorts and t-shirt to work!”
The Waikato Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on 01 April 2020 at 5582 State Highway 27, SN Tatua 121, where Waikato Share Farmers of the Year, Sarah and Aidan Stevenson share milk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Daisy Higgs and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Grace Gibberd. 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 – Sarah and Aidan Stevenson
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Sarah and Aidan Stevenson
• Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Reuben and Deb Connolly
• Honda Farm Safety, Health & Biosecurity Award – Sarah and Aidan Stevenson
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Hayden and Kate MacPhail
• Meridian Farm Environment Award – Sarah and Aidan Stevenson
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Hayden and Kate MacPhail
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Sarah & Aidan Stevenson
Dairy Manager Merit Awards:
• Baker Tilly Staples Rodway Waikato Most Promising Entrant Award – Alex Colquhoun
• Waikato Farmers Trust Encouragement Award – Gursimran Singh Jhalli
• Blackman Spargo Rural Law Ltd Employee Engagement Award – Aidan Drake
• FarmRight Leadership Award – Daisy Higgs
• ADM Feed Management Award – Sam Guise
• DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Aidan Drake
• Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Aidan Drake
• Primary ITO Power Play Award – Sam Guise
• Westpac Personal Planning & Financial Management Award – Daisy Higgs
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
• Pioneer Most Promising Entrant Award – Jon Paul Jackson
• Castlegate James Farming Knowledge Award – Sophia Hunt
• Bluegrass Contracting Community & Industry Involvement Award – Austin McCabe
• I.S Dam Lining Ltd Communication & Engagement Award – Grace Gibberd
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Emma Rauhala