3 May 2015
The winners of the 2015 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are ahead of the game in driving profitability on farms, during a forecast period of low milk payouts.
At Auckland’s Sky City Hotel last night, Justin and Melissa Slattery were named 2015 New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmers of the Year, James Foote became the 2015 New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year and James Davidson was announced 2015 New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year.
Judges say the winners were actively seeking to manage through tougher economic times in the dairy industry. “They are ahead of the game and are planning to ensure they will be profitable if the payout is bad,” Sharemilker/Equity Farmer contest head judge Mark Horgan says. “The whole group were focused on operating profitable systems.”
Some finalists were actively involved in trialling new grasses on their farms while all were monitoring stock liveweights to ensure they met targets for optimum reproductive performance.
Head Dairy Trainee competition judge Nikki Halford says the trainee finalists were thinking about positive things they could do to make a difference. “They talked about ways they could help keep team morale up in tight times and saw that as just as important. They could all think of a number of things they could do to reduce farm costs, like getting on their pushbike to go and get the cows for milking.”
The one exception was in the farm manager competition where head judge Richard Jones says on the majority of higher input farms the focus is still on production over profit. “Only one of the contestants we judged was prepared to accept lower production because the feed costs outweighed the profitability. We’d speculate that the majority of these farms would make an operating loss this year and that was being accepted. You can’t blame the managers, but the farm’s key performance indicators (KPIs) hadn’t changed to fit the environment.”
More than half of the awards’ 33 finalists had changed careers to enter the dairy industry. “I believe a big part of the attraction to the industry is the work life balance you can get in dairy farming, as well as the opportunity to build a business and achieve goals,” Mr Jones says.
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors Westpac, DairyNZ, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda Motorcycles, LIC, Meridian Energy, New Zealand Farm Source, Ravensdown, and Triplejump, along with industry partner Primary ITO.
The 2015 Sharemilker/Equity Farmers of the Year, Justin and Melissa Slattery, gave an “exceptional” on-farm presentation that was clear, concise and easy to understand, Mr Horgan, a Westpac banker, says.
“They have evidence to back up everything they are doing. They have done detailed cost analysis of every aspect of their farm business to ensure they remain profitable.”
Aged 29 and 28 years, the couple won $53,500 in prizes and are 50% sharemilking 550 cows for Norm and Sandra Williamson at Culverden. They are completing their first season in the position and had researched where they should farm to best progress their career. “They had done an interesting analysis to choose their job. They weren’t just moving to a place for a job, they were moving to a place they thought would help them grow their business,” Mr Horgan says.
Their immediate goal is to double the size of their sharemilking business and they want to be farm owners within five years.
Mr Slattery completed an engineering apprenticeship at Wallace Meats in the Waikato before moving into the dairy industry while Mrs Slattery has a Bachelor of Business Management and is a chartered accountant.
The runners-up in the Sharemilker/Equity Farmer contest, Johan and Theona Blom from Central Plateau, had the ability – through outstanding financial records – to look at how different scenarios would impact on their business. The couple won $25,000 in prizes.
Taranaki’s Rob and Mel van den Brand placed third, winning $13,400 in prizes, and were consistent in all areas of their farm operation.
The 2015 New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year, James Foote, aged 30, has a drive and thirst for knowledge. “He’s farming a really hard and challenging farm. He’s done a lot of repairs and maintenance just to get things to an operational state and his management systems are very good,” Mr Jones, a Southland farmer, says.
Mr Foote played semi-professional rugby for 10 years and is now contract milking 425 cows at Miranda for Russell and Ces Evans. He won $27,900 in prizes.
“The life skills and disciplines that he has from his previous career as a rugby player have given him a great grounding in dairy farming,” Mr Jones says. “He has a strong focus on improvement and does a SWAT analysis each six months and he focuses on turning a weakness into a strength. We found that very refreshing.
“He has a clear plan to go 50% sharemilking in 2016 and we are sure he will do that,” he says.
The runner-up, Canterbury/North Otago’s Mark Cudmore, won $12,600 in prizes and is another career changer with a great attitude. “He got chucked in the deep end and was involved in the conversion of the farm he manages at Cheviot.”
Northland’s Karla Frost placed third in the farm manager contest, winning $8000 in prizes. Miss Frost is managing the Northland Agricultural Research Farm. “It’s far more complicated than running a normal farm because of the trials they run and she has got it nailed,” Mr Jones says.
The 2015 New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year, James Davidson, is passionate about the dairy industry and has identified a career pathway within it.
“We warmed to his presentation and he was very confident in himself,” Mrs Halford, a Hawkes Bay farmer, says. “The video James prepared for judging was fantastic and illustrated the variety of knowledge and skills required to manage a dairy farm. It really showed his passion for dairying and the variety that it offers.”
The 26-year-old won $19,500 in prizes and is currently working on the Darfield, Canterbury, farm owned by Warren and Annemieke Thomas milking 1400 cows.
Mr Davidson holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Farm Management and plans to go contract milking.
Second place in the dairy trainee contest went to Central Plateau representative Gerard van der Mark, who won $3500 in prizes. Mrs Halford says he is ready for farm management. “Gerard presents as someone who is already not at dairy trainee level, as he is thinking about managing his team and farm costs.”
Waikato’s Brett Steeghs placed third in the contest, winning $2500 in prizes. Mr Steeghs is just finishing his first season in the industry and has secured a 50% sharemilking position with his partner – and last year’s New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year, Ruth Hone – for next season.
Mrs Halford says the trainees had all been motivated by a three-day study tour they attended leading into the awards dinner. “The tour has inspired them to set stronger goals and goals that stretch them a bit further.”
2015 New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year
2015 New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year
2015 New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year
See this website for more information on the award winners.