West Otago dairy farmer shares expertise in Sri Lanka

West Otago dairy farmer Marloes Levelink in a workshop with Sri Lankan farming women during International Women's Day.

West Otago dairy farmer Marloes Levelink in a workshop with Sri Lankan farming women during International Women's Day.

West Otago dairy farmer Marloes Levelink says she has three jobs, but she still volunteered her time to share her knowledge with Sri Lankan dairy farmers.

Levelink milks 400 cows with her partner Jonathan Verkerk at Kelso, in West Otago, and they have been Fonterra shareholders since 2002.

She also provides training and advice for farmers and rural professionals on herd management, feeding, cow behaviour and housing and enjoys working with people from different cultures. Her third job is being mum to eight-year-old twins.

As a part of the Fonterra Dairy Development programme farmer volunteer scheme Levelink travelled to Fonterra's demonstration and training farm in Pannala, near Colombo, for three weeks.

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The programme supports the growth of sustainable dairy industries in key markets where Fonterra operates, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia and China, by sharing its expertise and working together with local farmers, governments and industry players.

Initially meant to head to Sri Lanka last year, Levelink's trip was put off because of flooding and landslides in the country.

While farming is vastly different in Sri Lanka compared to New Zealand, Levelink said there was a lot of positives happening in the Sri Lankan dairy industry on a farmer level. 

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The key difference between the two industries was that New Zealand dairy farmers milked hundreds of cows and had embraced automation and mechanisation while the average herd size in Sri Lanka was three or four cows that were hand-milked, she said.

Most of the dairy farmers were family farms, which used the milk income to supplement their main household incomes, she said.

"They're not competitors. They're people that own a few cows and those cows might produce five litres a day."

Levelink believed the Sri Lankan government would like to be self-sufficient in its milk production, and Fonterra's work developing the industry was crucial, she said.

The population was nowhere near consuming the recommended daily dairy intake, she said. But it was growing.

"There's families that will buy milk powder by the spoonful."

While there were farmers who would like to make dairy their main source of income, it had it's challenges as farmers needed to make the next step and implement technology into their daily practices. 

"There's only so many cows you can milk by hand and still have a bit of the day left."

While in Sri Lanka Levelink mostly worked with Fonterra supplier relationship officers who are the connection between the co-operative and the farmers. They provide the information available to the farmers, acting as consultants.

With her background in training and giving advice to farmers, Levelink worked with the supplier relationship officers to develop their workshop conducting skills, moving away from a lecture-style and into a more interactive experience for the farmers.

"The people are just as enthusiastic and passionate about everything they're doing and looking at how they can do things better tomorrow."

She also visited local farms and was involved in the International Women's Day celebrations, where a group of women farmers were brought together to discuss their farms. Some of the women were part-time practical workers on the farm, while others were fully involved in discussions and management decisions.

For Levelink, the day emphasised how important women were in the farming business, even in the background.

"I hope that will encourage the women farmers who were there, it will give them a bit of confidence."

 - Stuff

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