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Learning And Improvement A Successful Recipe For Central Plateau Winners

A passion for the New Zealand dairy industry, combined with a complementary skill set and desire to continue to learn and improve, is a winning recipe for a Rerewhakaaitu couple.

Paul and Sarah Koopal were announced the winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Rydges Rotorua on Saturday night. The other big winners were Ben Purua, who was named the 2024 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year, and Jessie Pope, the 2024 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Paul and Sarah believe the Awards are an excellent personal development and networking experience and encourage their staff team members to enter.

“We wanted to lead by example and enter as it’s a great opportunity to analyse each area of our business to make improvements and we have loved the process!”

Paul (46) grew up on the family farm and worked for a farm equipment company as Area Manager. He returned to the family farm where they have been working for the past 13 seasons, with Sarah (36) still working full-time off-farm in a rural banking role.

They are contract milkers for Anne and Stewart Koopal on their 204ha, 544-cow farm and won $17,295 and four merit awards.

The lifestyle and opportunity to run their own business initially drew the couple to the dairy industry, however they soon realised there was a lot a support within the industry and a great network.

“It’s a unique business model in that there are so many industry bodies and fellow farmers willing to assist you to improve your farming business.”

The first-time entrants say they love livestock management and the successes and challenges that it brings, along with watching the growth and success of their team.

Paul and Sarah identify the global trend towards sustainable agriculture as an aspect of the industry that excites them and believe the future of New Zealand dairy industry is bright.

“In addition to our natural resources, we have an industry of skilled and passionate farmers and rural professionals,” they say.

“We ae well-placed to take advantage of innovation in animal health, nutrition, breeding and technology to continue to produce a sustainable and excellent quality product.”

There have been a few challenges in their career including a season with a 22% empty rate as a result of BVD, the drought of 2012/13 and the dairy down-turn, however the couple say these challenges have made them more resilient and they have gained key learnings from each challenge.

“Nothing good comes easy!” says Paul. “You can choose your attitude and how you respond to a hard time – we try to embrace challenges, learn from them and grow.”

“We’re proud of a 6-week in-calf rate of 77%, our past staff members achieving success in the dairy industry and that we have created a workplace with a great culture where our team’s well-being and development is valued.”

Future farming goals include achieving equity growth through a diversified asset investment strategy.

“We’d like to be recognised as industry role models and mentor farm managers or contract milkers to assist them with their business skills and career progression,” says Sarah.

“We’ll continue to be passionate New Zealand dairy farmers, producing high-quality products from well-bred animals.”

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors CowManager, DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown, and Trelleborg, along with industry partners DairyNZ, MediaWorks and Rural Training Solutions NZ.

Runners-up in the Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year competition were Navdeep Singh & Jobanpreet Kaur who won $8,650 in prizes and two merit awards.

The couple are contract milkers over two farms owned by Mark Keany – a 193ha and a 198ha property milking a total of 1270 cows.

They entered the Awards to build a connection with fellow farmers, achieve personal and career growth as well as gain recognition within the industry.

Third placegetter in the Share Farmer category was awarded to Buddhiya Alankarage & Chamila Mudalige, who achieved runner-up in the same category last year.

The couple are contract milking for Greg Mccullough and Jose Franco on their 153ha, 520-cow Rotorua property. They won $4,030 in prizes and two merit awards.

The winner of the 2024 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year competition, Ben Purua from Tirau, who is working on Jack and Tiz Scheres’ and Chap and Ashleigh Zwiers’ 187ha property, milking 540 cows.

Ben was third placegetter in the same category in 2023 and was a finalist in the 2021 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer Awards. He won $8,105 and one merit award.

“I love meeting people in the industry that have a passion for farming like me,” he says. “I enjoy the challenge and the programme has pushed me to keep improving my farming knowledge and skills.”

Ben began in the dairy industry as a farm assistant in 2016 and has progressed to farm manager. “I love being outside on our whenua, working with the cows and meeting the challenges of creating quality milk.”

“I love the farming lifestyle and being part on an industry that produces quality product to the globe.”

Ben has welcomed the progression in technology over the past few years. “I’m lucky on my farm we are using a lot of the up-to-date technologies.”

“I think that with technology we will be able to bring more young people into farming and I see my role as being a good leader and example.”

“The technology on farms makes life so much easier – our shed is one of the latest DeLaval sheds and it has all the bells and whistles to support us to produce quality milk.”

Ben would love to change how people see dairy farmers and would like to see dairy farming as a career option from young age. “We’re the backbone to New Zealand and within our job we have to have such a diverse range of skills.”

“We cover all areas such as animals health, finances, maintaining vehicles, understanding the science of growing grass and cow nutrition and much more.”

“I’d love to inspire more people to be dairy farmers as it truly the best job in the world!”

Ben grew up in Pukekohe and had never considered farming as a career option until he spent time in Waikeria prison and discovered a passion for dairy farming, which he credits with helping him find a better pathway.

Together with his wife Nikki and his whanau, Ben has a big goal to create a transition farm for men released from prison, with financial goals and plans in place to achieve this.

“We have recently started a clothing line called ‘Kāmu tō Pāmu (Calm Your Farm) and we are considering buying and leasing out cows as another income stream, as well as leasing land to raise calves.

The 29-year-old believes the on-farm working environment is a huge strength of the business he works for. “We have a great team and the family I work for have seven farms in total, so we’re always working together, sharing ideas and having lots of fun and laughs.”

“We also have some healthy competitiveness between us!”

Ben enjoys documenting his farm life through social media platforms. “I also want to use my social media platforms to show the great fun we have as farmers!”

Dyslexia, a head injury and leaving school early has made life challenging at times for Ben, who is grateful for his understanding employers and mentors who have helped him to progress.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to progress to be a farm manager with all the responsibilities that come with the role.”

“My whanau are my why, they support me to be the best I can be,” says Ben. “Coming home to them after a challenging day on-farm makes it all worthwhile.”

Runner-up in the Dairy Manager category went to Scott Kupa who is a farm manager on Pāmu Farms’ 340ha Reporoa property, milking 780 cows. He won $4,510 in prizes and three merit awards.

Scott entered the dairy industry in 2012 after making a career change from Building and Landscaping in 2012. “I love dairy farming, making a career change is the best thing I have ever done from a career perspective,” he says.

Initially, farming suited Scott because he wanted to be around for his children as much as possible and enjoyed working outdoors and with animals.

“In recent years I’ve discovered one of my strengths is motivating and growing people. I love helping my team to be the best that they can be and helping them on their dairy farming journeys to achieve their career and personal goals.”

Third placegetter in the Dairy Manager category was awarded to Jesse Voysey-Frewen, a first-time entrant who is farm manager on Tony Fleming & Carla Fleming & Steve Bignell’s 170ha, 480-cow Reporoa farm. The 22-year-old won $2,570 and one merit award.

The 2024 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year, Jessie Pope who is farm assistant for the region’s Share Farmer winners, Paul and Sarah Koopal.

Previously a vet nurse in a rural clinic working primarily with small animals, this is Jessie’s second full-time season in the dairy industry. “I saw the programme as a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet like-minded people within the industry.”

The 30-year-old grew up on a sheep, beef and dairy farm and is excited about the advances in technology and all the information available to farmers, especially in terms of animal health.

“I hope to be able to work with this technology one day with my own cows, to be able to give them the best support and care they can get, so they can perform at their peak.”

Jessies wishes the public perceived farming differently. “Farmers really do care about our cows and the environment and I wish that was more recognised.”

Future farming goals include progressing to 2IC within the next two seasons with an end goal of land ownership.

Jessie holds a Diploma in Veterinary Nursing and is currently studying towards completing PrimaryITO Level 3 Dairy Farming.

“I can be very self-critical and something that I’ve learnt in the past two seasons is that not everything goes to plan, especially in farming.”

“I’m really proud of how much I’ve learnt in the past two seasons as it’s allowed me to take on more responsibility on-farm and gain more confidence in myself.”

Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee competition was Nikolas Young who is 2IC on Tom and Traze Earls’ 178ha, 500-cow farm in Whakamaru. He won $3,500 in prizes.

The second-time entrant graduated as a motorcycle engineer after leaving school and worked as a mechanic for 10 years in that industry before switching to dairy farming three seasons ago.

“I grew up living on dairy farms and always enjoyed the environment,” Nik explains. “Since becoming a dairy farmer I’ve been able to spend more quality time with my partner Katie and my two sons.”

“I love the farming lifestyle with working outdoors and being around animals.”

Nik is progressing to manager’s role next season on a 220-cow farm. “I am looking forward to striving to achieve and set new goals to becoming a contract milker in the future.”

Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 25-year-old farm assistant Reece Pearce who works on Robin Broderson’s 140ha, 350-cow Reporoa property. He won $1,800 in prizes and one merit award.

The Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on Thursday 04 April 2024 at 403 Rerewhakaaitu Road, Rotorua 3073 S/N Fonterra 78874 where Share Farmers of the Year, Paul and Sarah Koopal, are contract milking. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Ben Purua and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Jessie Pope. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at

Share Farmer Merit Awards:

•DairyNZ – People and Culture Award Buddhiya Alankarage & Chamila Mudalige

•Ecolab Total Farm Hygiene Award Paul & Sarah Koopal

•Federated Farmers Leadership Award Buddhiya Alankarage & Chamila Mudalige

•Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award Paul & Sarah Koopal

•LIC – Animal Wellbeing, Recording and Productivity AwardPaul & Sarah Koopal

•Meridian Environmental Sustainability AwardPaul & Sarah Koopal

•Ravensdown Sustainable Pasture Award Navdeep Singh & Jobanpreet Kaur

•Stretton & Co Business Performance Award Navdeep Singh & Jobanpreet Kaur

•BlackmanSpargo Rural Law Emerging Talent AwardRenee and Colin Tremain

Dairy Manager Merit Awards:

•DeLaval Livestock Management Award Jesse Voysey Frewen

•Fonterra Dairy Management Award Scott Kupa

•Ecogas - Fertify Ltd Environmental Sustainability AwardGeorgia Cairns

•Vetora B.O.P Pasture & Feed Management Award Scott Kupa

•Perrin Ag Consultants People & Leadership AwardScott Kupa

•Cow Manager Personal Planning & Financial Management AwardBen Purua

•I S Dam Lining Emerging Talent AwardPablo Lugo Bedoya

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:

•DairyNZ Practical Skills AwardJack Thomas Humphrey

•Piako Tractors Emerging Talent AwardReuben Haggar

•T H Enterprises Farming Knowledge AwardJessie Pope

•NZ Farmers Livestock Communication & Industry Involvement Award Reece Pearce