Brad Markham: Awards and schemes breeding the next generation of dairy farmers

Waikato Share Farmer of the Year winner Phillip van Heuven on his new farm at Ngahinapouri, south of Hamilton.

Waikato Share Farmer of the Year winner Phillip van Heuven on his new farm at Ngahinapouri, south of Hamilton.

OPINION: A fortnight ago I was standing in front of a room full of farmers in Rotorua wearing nothing more than a calf meal bag and a $6 wig. If I had to choose one word to describe the outfit it would be draughty. 

I was in the geyser city for the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards' annual conference. The event attracts former winners, who now volunteer their time to help run the awards programme in 11 regions across the country. 

They all take time away from their jobs or businesses because they're passionate about helping others learn, grow and progress through the industry.

I co-presented a couple of sessions. As I peered out at the crowd through the uneven fringe of my cheap wig, I was reminded how the dairy industry delivers to those who seek opportunity, work hard and work smart. 

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There's no better example of that than Carlos and Bernice Delos Santos. Earlier this year the couple was named Central Plateau Share Farmers of the Year and placed second nationally. It was great catching up with Carlos at the conference.

He moved here from the Philippines in 2001 and used to cycle 40 minutes to a relief milking job until he could afford to buy a car. Carlos and Bernice now run their own business 50:50 sharemilking about 360 cows at Ngakuru, south of Rotorua. 

Bernice has previously said "when you start with nothing, it's always hard and difficult. But when you get the ball rolling, it somehow gets easier." 

Carlos said entering the awards made the couple "review and scrutinize" every aspect of their growing business. Winning will help boost their future career prospects. "Having those titles certainly makes a difference on our CV," he said.

A career in dairy can also help turn lives around. While I was in Rotorua I was lucky enough to meet Jack Raharuhi, one of the industry's inspirational success stories.

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Jack took out the Ahuwhenua Young Maori Farmer Award in 2016 and earlier this year was named West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year. 

He fell in with the "wrong crowd as a teenager" and his Dad pulled him out of school and got him a full-time job in Westport as a farm assistant for Landcorp. He's been rising through the ranks of the state-owned farmer ever since.

Jack said dairy farming got him in line and he had no time to go out and get into trouble. In his spare time, he started studying again and has completed several Primary ITO qualifications. He also trains and mentors other young Landcorp staff.

Entering the NZ Dairy Industry Awards helps young farmers improve their skills and achieve their goals faster. It was certainly true in our case. 

The experienced farmers, DairyNZ staff and Westpac bankers, who travel the country judging entrants, are passionate about seeing the next generation grow and succeed. They provide useful feedback, which helps propel careers to the next level.

I love hearing stories like Phillip van Heuven's. I met Phillip and his partner Erin in Auckland earlier this year after he was named 2017 Waikato Share Farmer of the Year. Phillip recently said taking out the title helped him clinch a larger 50:50 sharemilking job.

The owners of the Ngahinapouri farm he now sharemilks on were impressed when they attended the winners' open day at his old farm.  They "turned up to my open day and I had an interview on the Sunday," he told Stuff

That competitive edge is handy when the number of herd-owning sharemilking (HOSM) positions in New Zealand continues to shrink. A report released in May 2016 titled Pathways to Progression found that during the "past five years the number of HOSM positions has declined by fifty per year".

If you know a young dairy farmer who would benefit from taking part in the awards programme, encourage them to sign up when entries open later this month.

It's also great to see an exciting new apprenticeship has been launched by Federated Farmers and Primary ITO to rapidly grow the capability of new entrants to the dairy industry. 

The apprenticeship has been launched as a pilot in selected regions, including Taranaki – which has about 1700 dairy farms.

Apprentices will earn while they learn, developing their skills on the job. 

It will also ensure employers are equipped to offer a quality work environment, while actively supporting vital training. Both are essential if the industry is to entice people from city-based careers.

 - Stuff

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