The progressive path

By Brierley Penn

Morgan and Hayley Easton have long-term aspirations beyond their farm gate.
Morgan and Hayley Easton have long-term aspirations beyond their farm gate.

Morgan Easton is the third generation in his family to farm in the Waitaki Valley, an area well-known for dry summer conditions, but enhanced by irrigation from New Zealand's third largest river. Despite this background in agriculture, it was only one month before beginning his university studies that Easton decided that it was a career path that he too wanted to follow.

"I didn't want to be bound to a desk, instead I sought the variety of farming and being a business owner rather than an employee. It was the industry that my grandparents and my parents have always been part of; I had enjoyed growing up on a farm and was keen to replicate a similar family environment for my own children."

Growth in recent times has been prodigious, as Morgan and his wife Hayley have expanded their herd from 450 cows in 2008, to 1350 in 2013. Recently, the couple were acknowledged as the Canterbury and North Otago Sharemilker/Equity Manager of the Year, as well as being runners up in the equivalent national competition

Operating on a 50:50 sharemilking basis, the couple is looking to progress towards land ownership, but have long-term aspirations beyond their farm gate. Morgan has recently returned from the US-NZ Pacific Partnership Forum in Washington, has taken part in two university exchanges in the United States (one on a Fulbright Scholarship), and has been liaising with an agricultural college in Wisconsin, leading video lectures. "I think the NZ dairying industry is well structured for young, motivated people to enter and there is an acknowledged progression path that can take a new entrant from dairy trainee to herd manager, farm manager and on to sharemilking, with the frequent end goal of farm ownership," he says. "The recognised structure means hard work and dedication can let people make these steps, with the variable being the speed at which those steps are made."

The Sharemilker/Equity Manager competition involved judgment of every facet of their farming business, from human resources and health and safety, to livestock and farm environment, in the form of a two-hour presentation and on farm visits. As winners of the regional competition, their farm was opened up at a field day, with around 250 people visiting the site, during which the Eastons discussed 'what they do and why they do it' on the farm.

"I think there is still a problem with the perception of the agricultural sector as a career. It might be because students leave high school thinking that all the best careers involve wearing suits in the city, which agriculture doesn't fit into," Morgan explained. "But given the choices I had when I graduated I find it hard to imagine how I could have gained the business skills and equity growth that I have within eight years of leaving university any other way and I strongly believe agricultural careers should be held in higher regard."

He believes schools should encourage their students to take subjects that allow them to move easily into science-based study, and to explore land-based opportunities that exist alongside more traditional careers.

He says it is important New Zealand has a greater acknowledgement of the whole agricultural industry, with a more balanced portrayal of trends in the sector.

"Regulatory pressures seem to be coming at farmers from all angles and the balance would appear to be somewhat skewed as to what makes practical good sense when it comes to plans and policies. I don't think I am nave when I say I am unsure why it is becoming increasingly hard for farmers to do what they do so well."

Brierley Penn

- NZ Herald

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