For someone who says she "bombed out after a year" at Lincoln University, life has worked out pretty well for Ash-Leigh Campbell.

After leaving university she stuck to what she knew best - milking cows.

This turned out to be the right choice, as last night Campbell was named the 2020 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year.

As the Ngāi Tahu Farming Technical Farm Manager, Campbell is responsible for assisting with the management and performance of eight dairy and dairy support farms (8000 cows).

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"[It's a] big job out at our Te Whenua operation in North Canterbury ... [I'm the] only female on the team and I must say the farm managers keep me on my toes most days but we've got a great team culture out there" Campbell told The Country's Jamie Mackay.

Although Campbell grew up knowing she was of Ngāi Tahu decent, she didn't connect to her iwi until her mid 20s.

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"I guess one of the cool things that's occurred for me through my 20s is a bit of a self journey as well, discovering where I'm from and who I am".

Ngāi Tahu put "a unique lens" across the environmental side of farming, which Campbell said was "very near and dear" to her heart.

"What I've learned in the company the last three and a half years has been incredible. They take quite a holistic approach to looking after our whenua - our land - and I'm really proud of the achievements that we've made in the short time I've been there".

One such achievement was being the first dairy farms to gain A grade audits within the Waimakariri catchment said Campbell.

As Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year, Campbell received a scholarship prize of up to $20,000 to undertake a professional business development programme.

Former winner Trish Rankin travelled to the US to study at Harvard, something Campbell said she would love to do, but Covid-19 restrictions may clip her wings.

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"What my travel plans look like - who knows yet? ... it's a moving target each day so we'll take it as it comes".

Instead, Campbell was keen to keep a local focus and was looking forward to representing Fonterra and the Dairy Women's Network around New Zealand.

"Winning the Fonterra award for 2020 couldn't come at a better time for not only myself but our industry as a whole. We've got a real opportunity right now to inspire, potentially, young individuals that have been displaced through Covid-19 and have lost a job in another industry".

"What can we do to attract them to come join us on what we're trying to achieve as a sustainable and environmentally-friendly country that's producing top end dairy products. So I hope that in the next twelve months that I can really get out there and grab a few people to join us on what we're achieving".

Speaking of achievements, Campbell said she returned in her mid-twenties to Lincoln University and earned diplomas in Agriculture and Farm Management as well as a degree in Commerce, majoring in agriculture.

"I did things a it back to front, but nonetheless I'm here now".