The major winners in the 2023 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards say being caretakers of the land is a pretty special job to have and are proud to be part of a food-producing nation.
Ricky and Maria Johnson were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year Category at the annual awards dinner held in Shantytown on Thursday night. The other big winners were Gurpreet Singh, who was named the 2023 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year, and Ireland Cain, the 2023 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year.
The Johnsons are 50/50 share milkers on Robb and Jane Macbeth’s 194ha Maruia farm milking 420 cows. They won $8,000 in prizes and three merit awards.
“We entered the Awards for the first time over 15 years ago and we entered again this year after hearing about the changes and it’s been well worthwhile so far,” they say.
“The feedback and taking the time to look at how and why we do things has made us think about where we are going and how we are going to get there.”
The couple’s family are now young adults and they say their biggest success was being able to bring their family up on a farm and having a tight family unit.
“When you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work. The boys enjoy coming home to help on the farm and have a BBQ tea.
Ricky and Maria cite their team as one of the biggest strengths of their business. “We have a great crew with Kerrin being with us for 6 seasons and Isaac for three seasons. Being able to retain staff is awesome and makes life and the farm much easier.”
“The importance of having health and safety on-farm to keep us all safe is always evolving and the job is never done.”
The weather – be it drought or flood – has proved challenging for Ricky and Maria, as has sending their boys away to college due to living remotely.
A positive attitude helps during the harder times, with their animals providing motivation. “Cows are amazing and it’s a great life on the farm,” says Ricky. “It’s great to be able to be able to work and have family around while you do.”
Future farming goals include farm ownership on the West Coast. “We’re excited about the future of Westland Milk and supplying quality milk to the them. They produce fantastic products and we may be a bit bias, but we think they produce the best butter in the world,” say the couple.
“There is nothing quite like going to the supermarket and seeing a product on the shelf that you helped produce.
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown, and Trelleborg, along with industry partners DairyNZ, MediaWorks and Rural Training Solutions NZ.
The runner-up in the Share Farmer category is 35-year-old Hamish Morrison, who is contract milking for Brent Morrison on his 155ha, 406-cow Rai Valley property.
The former land surveyor is in his sixth season on the family farm and is in his second season contract milking.
He won $4,040 and one merit award.
“Each day has a new challenge but it doesn’t feel like work,” says Hamish. “I have freedom to run the farm, experiment and continually improve.”
“I’m excited to see new technology coming on board to help farmers become more efficient and mitigate effects on the environment.”
Hamish cites good team relationships as a strength of the business. “Having a good staff roster (5 on, 2 off) as well as giving staff time off to pursue other interests is vital.”
Future farming goals include sharemilking and eventual ownership of the family farm.
Third placegetter in the Share Farmer category was awarded to Mark and Esther Tubman who are contract milkers for John and Anne Freeman, on their 150ha, 350-cow Takaka property.
The first-time entrants wanted to learn about more about the process and receive feedback to help their future growth.
They won $2,700 and two merit awards.
The winner of the 2023 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year category grew up on a farm in India and is grateful for the training and resources available to him in his role.
Gurpreet Singh won $7,000 in prizes and two merit awards and is farm manager for Pāmu Farms of New Zealand on the 460ha, 1050-cow Cape Foulwind property.
The first-time entrant enjoys the variety of the farming lifestyle. “It’s a great feeling at the end of the day that I have helped put food on the table for many families.”
Gurpreet finds the new technology around automation fascinating. “It’s interesting to see the way it is shaping the dairy industry.”
“I see myself farming for the foreseeable future and training young people into dairy farming.”
During challenging times, the 30-year-old finds reminding himself hard times are temporary to be helpful. “I have learnt a lot of lessons that make me a better farmer and human being.”
“My biggest challenge has been dealing with immigration while trying to progress my career. There were so many opportunities I could not take because of my visa restrictions at the time.”
Future farming goals include contract milking and eventual farm ownership.
Runner-up in the Dairy Manager category was Shaun Rhodes, who is excited about new technology in the industry that is constantly evolving.
“I’m always ready to try new things and am quick to adapt to change. The new technology makes me think about how things are done and how they can be done better.”
Shaun entered the dairy industry more than 12 years ago, and prior to that spent more than a decade working in casinos in New Zealand and Australia.
“Most of that time was spent in the surveillance department, so I was stuck in a room with lots of screens and no windows to the outside world.”
“I chose to return to farming to start my family and raise my children with plenty of room to grow,” says Shaun. “My favourite thing about farming is I can do it with my family.”
Shaun is currently farm manager for Willie and Michelle Coates on their 370ha, 660-cow Dobson property. He won $3000 in prizes and two merit awards.
The 42-year-old would like to see the ‘cowboys’ who give dairying a bad name out of the industry. “This would help improve public perception of dairy farming.”
Shaun cites the owners as a big strength of the business. “They aren’t afraid of change or to try new things.”
“They’re supportive and encourage upskilling, are patient and really helpful when learning new skills.”
Shaun enjoys spending time with his wife Jacinda and their three children when not working. “My family is my world outside of farming.”
“I returned to farming so I could spend more time with family and be home every night for dinner.”
Kieran Hamilton placed third and won $2000 in prizes and one merit award. He is farm manager on Pāmu Farms of New Zealand’s 471ha, 900-cow property at Moana.
The first-time entrant says he is a born and bred dairy farmer, securing his first after-school job in the industry at 12 years old.
“I grew up around farming and I love the outdoors, animals and the challenges.”
Women took out the top three places in the Dairy Trainee category.
Ireland Cain has been named winner in the 2023 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year category. She won the Emerging Talent award in the same category last year.
Ireland is herd manager on Stu and Jan Moir’s 377ha, 800-cow property in Reefton. She won $6,500 in prizes and two merit awards.
The second-time entrant says she entered the Awards programme to improve her confidence and to pursue further learning opportunities.
“I’m a proud dairy farmer, who is environmentally cautious and aware. I’m excited to keep doing my part to protect and nurture New Zealand’s environment.”
Ireland grew up on her family’s farm and decided to seek employment off-farm in 2020 to learn new ways and expand her farming knowledge.
“I’ve encountered some very knowledgeable and skilful farmers whom I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside, learn from and form great relationships with.”
Ireland’s end goal of farm ownership keeps her motivated during harder times, along with her close relationship with her family.
“I have set realistic goals and find myself consistently reassessing and adjusting them to keep me on track.”
“Farm ownership takes a lot of hard work and I’m prepared to do everything it takes to get there.”
Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was 25-year-old farm assistant Ros McCann, who won $2000 in prizes and one merit award.
Ros works on Andrew Verwey’s 420ha, 775-cow Atarau property.
The first-time entrant began milking cows at 15 years old through Greymouth High School’s gateway programme, which led her to realise her passion for animal health.
“I spent four years as a Large Animal Vet Technician before switching back to farming last year,” says Ros. “I’ve really enjoyed putting my animal health knowledge into practice on the farm, plus learning all the other aspects about farming.”
“Despite the challenges, dairying is ultimately a very rewarding career.”
Ros is most excited about genetics of New Zealand dairy cows. “Breeding better, more resilient cows and improving many different aspects about them.”
Ros seems endless opportunities and career pathways within the dairy industry, which makes her very proud to be in the industry.
Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 28-year-old farm assistant Alexandra Davidson who won $1,500 in prizes.
Alexandra works on the Birchlea Trust 300ha, 725-cow farm at St Arnaud.
The first-time entrant holds a Bachelor of Teaching and a Diploma in Montessori Education and left early childhood teaching in Christchurch to take up an opportunity to explore the dairy farming idea further. “I don’t think I want to leave and go back to teaching!”
“I love being in the great outdoors and the peacefulness that comes with working with the cows.”
Since entering the dairy industry 10 months ago, Alexandra has been challenged and learned a lot.
“The longer I’m in farming the more I want to learn and grow my knowledge. I enjoy my job and want to do it well and find joy in seeing a job completed and done well.”
The West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on 5th April 2023 at 10.00am at 1991 State Highway 65 Maruia S/N Westland Milk Products 544 where Share Farmers of the Year, Ricky and Maria Johnson sharemilk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Gurpreet Singh and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Ireland Cain. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz.
Share Farmer Merit Awards:
- DairyNZ – People and Culture Award Ricky & Maria Johnson
- Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award Merryn & Michael Ashton
- Federated Farmers Leadership Award Hamish Morrison
- Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award Ricky & Maria Johnson
- LIC – Animal Wellbeing, Recording and Productivity Award Mark Ring and Sarah Hope
- Meridian Environmental Sustainability Award Mark & Esther Tubman
- Ravensdown Sustainable Pasture Award Mark & Esther Tubman
- Cuffs Chartered Accountants & Business Advisors Business Performance Award Ricky & Maria Johnson
- Drummond and Etheridge Emerging Talent Award Andre & Rebecca Weal
Dairy Manager Merit
- DeLaval Livestock Management Award Gurpreet Singh
- Fonterra Dairy Management Award Gurpreet Singh
- Essential Nutrition Ltd Environmental Sustainability Award Kieran Hamilton
- SealesWinslow Pasture & Feed Management Award Kieran Hamilton
- Silver Fern Farms People & Leadership Award Shaun Rhodes
- Pāmu Farms of NZ Personal Planning & Financial Management Award Shaun Rhodes
- NZDIA Committee Emerging Talent Award Lisa Peeters
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
- Ros McCann