Contract milkers' move south pays off
Moving south to take up an opportunity and a challenge has scored Jesse Huffam and Renee Mason a jackpot of sorts, as they claimed the major prize in the West Coast-Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards.
The couple, who are the regional Share Farmers of the Year, were joined by Matt Birchfield, the Dairy Manager of the Year, and Del Bruce, the Dairy Trainee of the Year as the big winners.
Huffam and Mason, aged 26 and 28, are contract-milking 900 cows for Dairy Holdings at Springs Junction, Lewis Pass, and won $12,120 in prizes.
They previously farmed in the King Country and placed second in the 2014 Waikato Farm Manager of the Year awards.
"We found that the benefits from entering the competition were gaining a huge amount of confidence in ourselves, taking on constructive criticism, increased capability and giving us the self-belief that encouraged us to take the next big step in our journey to contract-milking in the South Island," they say.
"Entering the awards has allowed us to excel in the dairy industry to the point where we are today."
Both graduates of Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, the couple aim to grow stock numbers and progress to a sharemilking position with the ultimate goal of farm ownership. "We would like to buy marginal land and pioneer it.
"We also aim to build a high BW herd that ranks in the top 5 per cent in the country and to one day have a bull in the LIC sire team, which we will call Big Wednesday!"
They say Dairy Holdings has provided a supportive environment and wealth of knowledge. "Dairy Holdings gives you the room to grow and learn and the guidance required to be successful and have common goals that can be achieved."
South African's Darryl and Tammy Schwartz, aged 43 and 34, were placed second in the share farmer competition. The Kowhitirangi 50 per cent sharemilkers won $5425 in prizes. Ahaura 50 per cent sharemilkers, Blessing and Patricia Hwata, were third and won $5925 in prizes as they also won two merit awards.
Dairy Manager of the Year,Matt Birchfield entered the awards for the first time to gain experience, further his farming knowledge and to learn what he needs to improve on.
The 36-year-old is production manager on Murray and Gaye Coates' 785-cow Haupiri farm, known as Prospect Farm, and won $7630 in prizes. He spent five years in the industry on leaving school and then returned in 2014 after working for a variety of companies associated with the rural sector.
A father to five children and with no high school bus at the gate, Birchfield says he is considering his future opportunities. "We feel we have two options and they are to go independent managing or contract milking. We have the dream to own our own farm in the next 10 years."
He says Prospect Farms uses technology well in its day-to-day operations and has a positive team approach. "We pride ourselves on our great team environment – we have great communication skills and really look after each other just like we are a family."
Birchfield is studying under Primary ITO, working to gain his helicopter licence and is also a keen hunter in his spare time.
Dobson farm manager Rochelle Roberts, 29, placed second in the dairy manager competition, winning $5580 in prizes, and 2015 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year Danny Mitchell was third, winning $3000. Mitchell, 25 is a Koromiko herd manager.
It was a trifecta for the women in the Dairy Trainee of the Year competition. All the women also farm in the top of the South Island.
Twenty-five-year-old Del Bruce claimed the title and $5360 in prizes. She is second-in-charge on Mark and Julie Freeman's 280-cow farm at Rainy River. She is employed by Jamie and Felicity Thomas and had entered the awards once previously.
"The benefits are great and include the experience and knowledge you gain, and you also get to meet like-minded people in the industry."
She grew up on a dairy farm at Maruia and has returned to dairy farming after trying different occupations. "I've settled on dairying and found that it's what I love. I have been full-time for about two years now."
Her goal is to progress to a farm manager's position. Another is to race dirt bikes on the national cross-country and enduro scene.
Lydia Freeman, a 20-year-old Takaka farm assistant placed second in the trainee competition, winning $2500 in prizes, and third place and $2250 in prizes went to Sarah Parkes, a 19-year-old Blenheim assistant herd manager.
A field day will be held on April 21 on the Springs Junction farm where Huffam and Mason contract-milk.