Teamwork key to farming success

19:05, Mar 07 2014
Former rugby star Kevin O'Neill and his wife, Sara, after being named Canterbury North Otago Sharemilker/ Equity Farmers of the Year.
AHEAD OF THE PACK: Former rugby star Kevin O'Neill and his wife, Sara, after being named Canterbury North Otago Sharemilker/ Equity Farmers of the Year.

From the bottom of a ruck to milking cows ex-Crusader lock Kevin O'Neill has always taken pride in his work.

That was put to the test this week and O'Neill and his wife, Sara, came away with flying colours after winning the premier contest at the Canterbury North Otago Dairy Industry Awards.

The couple are the latest Canterbury North Otago Sharemilker/ Equity Farmers of the Year, winning $19,000 in prizes, and earning the right to represent their region in the national contest.

Kevin O'Neill plays for Canterbury against Wellington in 2007.
PLAYING DAYS: Rugby player turned dairy farmer Kevin O'Neill plays for Canterbury against Wellington in 2007.

The O'Neills switched their focus to dairy farming in a family business in Waiau two years ago when O'Neill hung up the boots in professional rugby after stints with the Crusaders and Chiefs and the Melbourne Rebels. He earned a single All Blacks cap when he came off the bench in a test against the Springboks in Dunedin in 2008.

O'Neill said there were many parallels between farming and rugby and the one that stood out was the team effort needed for both careers.

"We are quite lucky in that we are surrounded by family in the business and have plenty of support to help us behind the scenes. We have good structure and governance and plenty of people willing to help."


The couple, both 31, broadly divide the duties with O'Neill running the operations side of the family farm and Sara, a property valuer, running the accounts and bookwork as well as sitting on boards for irrigation and other off-farm roles.

Sara will take on more farming work and a bit of time off valuing duties so the couple can work together and prepare themselves for the national competition. They have a field day to host on April 1 and another presentation to judges before the final in May.

O'Neill said his time with rugby had helped in many ways his entry into dairying.

"Rugby has been good to me and it's been a definite advantage. We are trying to build a team on the farm and to motivate people with opportunities as well as ourselves."

O'Neill has adapted to the longer hours of dairying and more early morning starts.

They began with a six-month stint as farm managers before entering a partnership as equity farm managers on Sara's family farm at Waiau. Today they oversee an 1190-cow herd on the 340 hectare farm and have Duncan and Olivia Rutherford and James and Belinda McCone as their equity partners.

The couple, who both grew up on farms, studied at Lincoln University and have set "fairly lofty" targets of building on their equity stake with multiple farm ownership.

A strength of their farm business is its governance with a board of six directors including two independent directors.

O'Neill said there were opportunities for scale and development.

He said the couple were aware of the increasing environmental pressures coming on farmers and were already working on reducing the risks for their business.

While they enjoyed their time in Melbourne when O'Neill was a lock for the Rebels, they have settled easily into the small centre of Waiau and spending quality time with their two children and concentrating on opportunities in dairying.

They are making the most of Canterbury's strong record in the national competition by sounding out previous winners for advice.

The other major winners in the regional awards announced at the Lincoln Events Centre this week were Phillip Colombus as the new Farm Manager of the Year and Isaac Vujcich as the Dairy Trainee of the Year.

The Press