20 years on, dairying move south celebrated

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2014
maree horgan, mike horgan
ROBYN EDIE/ Fairfax NZ

LURED SOUTH: Maree and Mike Horgan stand beneath the flags representing the nationality of their workforce on their South Hillend dairy farm. Twenty years ago, the Horgans were migrants themselves, heading south from Taranaki.

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In the early 1990s, Mike and Maree Horgan were part of a migration of Taranaki dairy farmers heading south looking for greener pastures.

Like many North Island dairy farmers they were drawn to Southland by the lure of farming more land and more cows.

Tomorrow night, those first dairy migrants will celebrate 20 years of farming in the province with an anniversary dinner.

Two decades ago, the Southland Dairy Co-Operative headed north to attend farm field days and talked up the land in the south waiting to be run with dairy cows.

Horgan knew what the co-operative was talking about.

"Maree and I married in 1973 and we hopped into our blue Ford Escort for a honeymoon lap of the South Island," Mike said.

"I vividly remember driving through Lochiel and turning to Maree and saying ‘what the hell are these sheep doing in these good paddocks?'.

"In Taranaki, the sheep were being pushed up into the hills. I thought these sheep had it too good down in Southland."

Twenty years later, the Horgans moved south with their six children, aged between 6 and 20.

The move was tough but it was a decision Mike felt would provide his family with opportunities not available to them in Taranaki.

Good land at reasonable prices along with suitable weather had northern dairy farmers flocking to Southland but not everyone welcomed the migrants with open arms. "We were called ‘North Island bastards' on a few occasions," he said.

However, Maree is quick to point out there were a lot of great people who welcomed them.

The Horgans estimated there were about 1000 new arrivals in Southland between 1994 and 1996.

Settling and converting the farms was a lot of hard work.

The Horgans' 160-hectare South Hillend farm initially ran 350 cows. Today, with expansion and the purchase of more farms, they milk 4700 cows.

The growth of their dairy business has been a natural evolution, the Horgans said.

"Older sheep farmers wanted to retire, so we were able to buy them," Maree said.

The Horgans employ workers from New Zealand, South Africa, India, the Philippines and Ireland.

The anniversary of the arrival of the Taranaki and other northern dairy farmers will be a chance to catch up and reflect on the contribution of the "North Island bastards" to Southland dairying.

Southland's small dairy industry had needed the expertise and experience of the northern dairy farmers to kickstart the dairy boom, Mike said.

"As a result of the migration, a volume of milk has been created that has seen the amalgamation of dairy companies over time in a viable way to establish the large Fonterra sites and make Southland a key player in milk exports."

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- The Southland Times

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