All walks of life contest dairy awards
A smorgasbord of 33 finalists from many walks of life including an ex-All Black, teachers and a chef are lining up for the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.
Among contestants are former professional Super 15 rugby player and All Black Kevin O'Neill from Waiau, as well as two former veterinarians, a couple of teachers, a chef, property valuer, design engineer, lab technician and an IT consultant.
O'Neill is contesting the New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year section next month with his wife, Sara O'Neill, as the Canterbury/North Otago winners.
Organisers say the wide-ranging field showcases the talent being attracted to the dairy industry.
National convenor Chris Keeping said many finalists were relatively new to the industry after changing careers, and were tapping into wiser heads to grow their farm businesses and make rapid progress in the industry.
"Entering the dairy industry awards is one way they have identified they can improve their knowledge and skills, meet rural professionals and other like-minded farmers, lift their confidence, have some fun and enhance their reputation."
The finalists are competing for the New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year, New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year and New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year titles.
Also representing Canterbury/North Otago are Phillip Colombus in the farm manager category and Isaac Vujcich in the dairy trainee competition.
The O'Neills switched their focus to dairy farming two years ago in a family business at Waiau when Kevin O'Neill retired from professional rugby after stints with the Crusaders, Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels.
He earned a single All Blacks cap, coming off the bench during a Springboks test in Dunedin in 2008.
The couple, both 31, have committed themselves to dairy farming and credit strong family support for getting ahead quickly.
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.
O'Neill's chief role is the operational side of the business and Sara, a property valuer, maintains the accounts and bookwork as well as sitting on off-farm boards.
Keeping said there were some standout features among the finalists.
"This year's bunch demonstrates the higher degree of professionalism being required in the industry as many hold (university) degrees. It is also really pleasing to see the number of females competing in the dairy trainee contest and the number of finalists that have progressed in the dairy industry awards, having been past regional winners at a lower level."
Each category winner will be named in Auckland on May 9 with a cash and prize pool of nearly $160,000 for the competition.