Three woman contributing to the dairy industry in very different ways are this year's finalists in the Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year award.

Ngāi Tahu Farming Technical Farm Manager Ash-Leigh Campbell from Christchurch, Auckland-based microbiologist and bio chemist Natasha Maguire, and West Coast dairy farmer Heather McKay are all in the running for the prestigious dairy award managed by the Dairy Women's Network.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, May 6.

All three finalists came from such different directions and perspectives, which highlighted the depth and diversity of how women are contributing to the dairy industry in New Zealand, said Dairy Women's Network Trustee and member of the award's judging panel Alison Gibb.

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"The underlying connection is the absolute passion that each one has for the dairy industry" said Gibb.

"With renewed respect for the industry we work in and the enormous challenges in the months ahead, there are exciting times in the leadership space when you see the calibre of the women coming through."

As the Farming Technical Farm Manager for Ngāai Tahu, Campbell works on eight farms with 8000 cows, Maguire is a co-founder and Director of Farm Medix, inventors of innovative diagnostics and animal health products and McKay is farming near Greymouth with husband Kelvin and their two daughters.

Fonterra Chief Executive Officer Miles Hurrell said the co-op was proud to support the Dairy Woman of the Year award and its celebration of high performers in the dairy industry.

"No other award in New Zealand recognises and encourages the capability and success of women in the dairy industry" said Hurrell.

"This year, we see another impressive group of finalists who are driving the dairy industry forward and making a positive difference in their respective communities."

The 2020 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year receives a scholarship prize of up to $20,000 to undertake an approved professional development programme.

The finalists for the awards were selected by a judging panel that also included Janette Rosanowski from Fonterra, Sandy Burgham and Grahame Fitzgerald from Ballance Agri-Nutrients and 2018 winner Loshni Manikam, who lives in Southland milking 600 cows with her husband and three children.

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Passionate environmentalist Trish Rankin from Taranaki was named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year last year.

Listen to Dairy Women's Network CEO Jules Benton talk to Rowena Duncum about the finalists on The Country Early Edition below:

The Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year finalists:
Ash-Leigh Campbell

Ash-Leigh Campbell. Photo / Supplied
Ash-Leigh Campbell. Photo / Supplied

Ngāi Tahu Farming Technical Farm Manager Ash-Leigh Campbell was born and raised in Canterbury.

After leaving high school she studied at Lincoln University, gaining diplomas in Agriculture and Farm Management as well as a degree in Commerce, majoring in agriculture.

It was during this time she had her first taste of the Dairy Women' Network, becoming a Regional Leader and the driving force behind the DWN Lincoln group which has now merged into Selwyn.

Campbell's has been working for Ngāi Tahu Farming for over three years and in her current Technical Farm Manager role she is responsible for assisting with the management and performance of eight dairy and dairy support farms (8000 cows).

She also assists with operational and environmental performance (audit and compliance) and the implementation and improvement of sustainable farming practices. Analytical projects as requested by the General Manager of Farming are also incorporated within the role.

Campbell's job involves both the practicalities of farming together with environmental issues and she is also Chair of the New Zealand Young Farmers.

Natasha Maguire

Natasha Maguire. Photo / Supplied
Natasha Maguire. Photo / Supplied

Originally from Canterbury, microbiologist and bio chemist Natasha Maguire lives in Auckland with her two sons, but travels regularly to the Waikato and Hamilton where her business is based.

Maguire is a co-founder and Director of Farm Medix, an industry leader in innovative progression for milk quality and sustainable performance of dairy production animals based in the Waikato Innovation Park.

Responsible for developing decontamination technologies for containment laboratories in Australasia, for the past 20 years Maguire has worked extensively in the life science and bio-containment fields with special interest in infectious disease control.

Maguire is passionate about creating a paradigm shift around how farmers control the major impacts on their milk production and animal health. She has been involved in Dairy Women's Network for five years as a member and says she spends much of her time on- farm with farmers.

Heather McKay

Heather McKay. Photo / Supplied
Heather McKay. Photo / Supplied

Award-winning dairy farmer Heather McKay lives near Greymouth with her husband Kelvin and their two daughters.

The couple won Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year for West Coast Top of the South in 2015, along with four merit awards regionally - DairyNZ Human Resources Award, Honda Farm Safety and Health Award, Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award and the Meridian Farm Environment Award.

At the 2015 National Final they were the national winners of two merit awards, the Ecolab Dairy Hygiene Award and LIC Farm Recording and Productivity Award.

She has been on the West Coast Top of The South Regional committee since 2015 and has held a number of roles, including Share Farmer Team Leader and Regional Manager.

McKay is part of the Dairy Environmental Leaders Forum Alumni and has attended the forum twice.

She has always worked off-farm in roles in the rural sector and resource and environmental management, and is currently working full time for the West Coast Regional Council as Consents and Compliance Manager.

Originally from Golden Bay in the Tasman District, Heather and Kelvin moved from Canterbury to the West Coast for a contract milking role, and now milk 180 cows in an equity partnership.

McKay was previously a Regional Leader for the Dairy Women's Network between 2015 and 2017 and has been a member for eight years.