The major winners in the 2021 Canterbury-North Otago Dairy Industry Awards aim to continue to grow their farming business while protecting the environment through sustainable farming.
Dinuka and Nadeeka Gamage were announced winners of the region's Share Farmer of the Year category in the Canterbury-North Otago Dairy Industry Awards held at the Airforce Museum of New Zealand in Wigram last Tuesday evening.
Other major winners were Maria Alvarez, who was named the 2021 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Manager of the Year, and Mattes Groenendijk, the 2021 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year.
The Gamages said the networking, strength and weakness identification and recognition they gained through the awards process were all motivating factors to enter again. Dinuka was placed third in the 2016 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Manager category.
The Ashburton couple contract-milk 980 cows on the 245ha Dairy Holdings Ltd property. They won $10,250 in prizes plus two merit awards.
Dinuka holds diplomas in Agribusiness Management, and also Technology from New Zealand, as well as Agriculture Engineering, and a post-graduate diploma in Marketing from Sri Lanka.
He has also achieved PrimaryITO Level 5 Production Management and Level 4 Dairy Farming and Biz Start from DairyNZ. Nadeeka holds the NZ Certificate in ECCE.
"Agriculture has always been our career of choice," the Gamages said.
"We love working outside with animals and nature."
"It was challenging at first to learn the skills required to be a New Zealand dairy farmer but we have overcome that through continuous education and experience."
The couple were proud of their progression through the industry, past dairy awards won and of the agribusiness qualifications.
"During harder times we like to have a clear mind and try to begin each day that way," Nadeeka said.
"We try to accept that sometimes things happen or change, and worrying won't change it."
Dinuka and Nadeeka identified the strong, ongoing support from their farm owners as a strength of their business.
Future farming goals included continuing to farm sustainably, aiming for 50/50 sharemilking or an equity partnership.
"Long term, we would love to own a farm."
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown, and Westpac along with industry partner DairyNZ.
Runners-up in the Canterbury/North Otago category went to Daniel and Laura Joho who won $3000 in prizes and two merit awards
Daniel and Laura are contract milkers for John and Rose Acland on their 350ha Ashburton property, milking 1250 cows. They are also equity partners in another property.
The couple believed their strong relationships and rapport with their staff, employers and wider farm team and community was a stand-out strength of their business, as well as their animal care and feed management.
"We look after and feed our stock with high-quality pasture and feed."
"We would love to change public perception of dairy farming," says Laura.
"We'd like to highlight the many positive farming practices farmers have in place, including the treatment and happiness of cows and reducing the environmental impact on the land."
The Johos believe the dairy industry offered clear career paths.
"Often our industry is seen as a last option when it should be a first for many."
Daniel holds a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Dairy Science and Technology, while Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), from the University of Canterbury.
There have been many challenges including moving to the South Island to further their dairy career, which meant leaving their support network.
"Another huge challenge has been contracting M.Bovis on both of our farms this year."
"We have been able to manage our way through this step-by-step and have worked hard for our staff and ourselves to stay positive," Daniel said.
Daniel and Laura enjoyed working together and believed the constant progressive and adaptive nature of the industry made it exciting to be part of.
"Our hope for the future is we are able to be progressive and innovative farmers of the future, leaving sustainable farms for the next generation to be part of."
Third place went to Daminda Gajamange who entered the awards to receive feedback from industry experts to enhance his farming practices.
"I got an in-depth understanding of my business by researching and discussing."
"I am excited by the sustainability of dairy farming now and in the future."
Daminda contract milks on Canterbury Grasslands Ltd 400ha farm at Darfield, milking 1450 cows. He won $2,750 in prizes and one merit award.
The winner of the 2021 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Manager of the Year category believed a strength of her business was in the simple, pasture-based system that suited low milk pay-outs.
Maria Alvarez won $6,375 in prizes plus two merit awards and is farm manager on Dairy Holdings Ltd 180ha, 660-cow property at Ashburton.
The first-time entrant said the awards programme made her realise how much she had achieved.
"I was completely out of my comfort zone when presenting, but it's been fantastic to receive the feedback."
Maria (32) holds an agricultural engineering degree from Argentina, and aimed to complete a Diploma in Agribusiness once her New Zealand residency application is accepted.
"Once I have residency, I would like to become a contract milker," she said.
"I'd also like to increase my stock numbers until I have my own herd."
Maria entered the dairy industry more than six years ago. Prior to this she was involved with beef cows and crops in Argentina.
"I love farming because every day is different and I really enjoy working outside and with animals."
Maria has dealt with staffing challenges since Covid, and credits her team for getting through the busiest period.
"One of my biggest success is being able to go to work every morning with a smile on my face because I love what I do," Maria said.
"I've got an awesome team."
"I'm also proud of improving on last year's reproduction performance, from 61 per cent six-week in-calf rate 2019/20 to 78 per cent 2020/21, and our 10-week in-calf rate improved from 84 per cent 19/20 to 88 per cent 20/21."
Ashburton farm manager Tharanga Senavirathna, aged 35 years, was second in the Dairy Manager category, winning $2,500 in prizes and two merit awards.
Currently working for Richard and Chrissie Wright on their 269ha property, milking 1000 cows, Tharanga entered the Awards to learn and develop his skills.
"It's been excellent to meet industry experts, other farmers and rural consultants and increase future opportunities."
The first-time entrant enjoys working outside with cows, pasture and the environment and is proud of the progress he has made within the industry since beginning as a farm assistant in 2011.
Darfield farm manager Jaspreet Singh placed third and won $2,000 in prizes and three merit awards. Jaspreet works on the Canterbury Grasslands Ltd 196ha, 730-cow property.
While initially coming to New Zealand to study business management, Jaspreet was encouraged to enter the dairy industry by friends.
"I come from a farming background and I could see the opportunities to progress in the New Zealand industry."
Mattes Groenendijk (25) was named the winner of the 2021 Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year category.
Mattes is Farm Assistant Ngāi Tahu Farming's 950-cow, 303ha Rangiora property and won $5,625 in prizes and two merit awards.
The first-time entrant grew up on a dairy farm in the Waikato and holds a Bachelor of AgriScience and Master of Science (Animal Science) from Massey University.
"The increasing global demand for safe, healthy and nutritious food that is produced to a high environmental and animal welfare standard makes me optimistic about the future of New Zealand dairy farming," Mattes said.
"I see myself fitting in as an innovator and early adopter of new farming techniques, systems and technology."
Mattes acknowledged staffing shortages through a calving and mating period in his first season was challenging, yet still rewarding.
"I'm proud I put in 100 per cent effort during that period to get through it and still achieve good results."
"During the harder times, I'm driven by wanting to provide the best care for the animals possible, as well as supporting my work mates."
Mattes would like to see an improved lifestyle and great work time flexibility for people in the dairy industry.
Future farming goals include farm managing before becoming involved with the family business and develop it for long-term sustainability.
"I'm proud to be producing high-quality food that is consumed all over the world, and gain a lot satisfaction from this."
Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was 25-year-old Waimakariri Farm Assistant Kelly Poehls, who won $1,625 in prizes.
Kelly currently works for Margaret and Richard Spencer-Bower on their 324ha, 1060-cow farm.
The first-time entrant entered the Awards to challenge herself and meet people with similar interests, during her first season working in the dairy industry.
"I had a rural upbringing in Makara and always knew I would have a career in agriculture," Kelly said.
"My future plan is to progress through the dairy industry to become an operations manager."
Kelly would like to see an improvement in work/life balance within the dairy industry which would attract and retain good staff.
"A work/life balance is highly important as life's too short to spend it all working!"
"I'm excited for the future of the dairy industry in New Zealand, especially when I reflect on how we, as an industry, overcome the constant challenges we are faced with."
Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 24-year-old Farm Assistant Thomas Lilley who won $1,375 in prizes. He works for Craig and Hannah Fulton and Chris Bolderston on their 160ha, 630-cow Coldstream property.
The first-time entrant was encouraged to enter the Awards by his employers and was born and raised in the dairy industry.
"I'm a third-generation farmer on both sides of my family," says Thomas.
"I enjoy all aspects of dairying but probably the animal husbandry side the most."
Thomas holds a Bachelor of Animal Sciences with First Class Honours (Animal Science & Genetics) from Lincoln University and has gained PrimaryITO Level 4.
Future farming goals include fitting into the New Zealand dairy industry as a food producer, milking his own herd of cows, on land he owns.
"One of my ultimate goals is to produce high-quality milk form a herd of high-quality cows, whom breed consistently, milk productively and possess the in-built longevity to stand the tests of time."
Share Farmer Merit Awards:
• DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Brigitte and Braden Barnes
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Daminda Gajamange
• Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Dinuka & Nadeeka Gamage
• Honda Farm Safety, Health & Biosecurity Award – Brigitte and Braden Barnes
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Brigitte and Braden Barnes
• Meridian Farm Environment Award – Daniel and Laura Joho
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Daniel and Laura Joho
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Dinuka & Nadeeka Gamage
Dairy Manager Merit Awards:
• Vetlife Most Promising Entrant – Megan Taylor
• Alexanders Chartered Accountants Employee Engagement Award – Jaspreet Singh
• MorrisonAgri Leadership Award – Maria Alvarez
• FarmRight Feed Management Award – Maria Alvarez
• Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Tharanga Senavirathna
• DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Tharanga Senavirathna
• NZDIA Power Play Award – Jaspreet Singh
• Westpac Financial Management & Planning Award – Jaspreet Singh
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
• TH Enterprises Ltd Most Promising Entrant Award – Grace Sutton
• FMG Farming Knowledge Award – Mattes Groenendijk
• Dairy Holdings Ltd Community and Industry Involvement Award – Alfonso Almonacid
• Craigmore Communication and Engagement Award – Nikita Baker
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Mattes Groenendijk