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2020 West Coast / top of the South Dairy Industry Awards winners announced

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

First-time entrants have been announced as major winners in the 2020 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards, with women once again represented strongly and achieving a clean sweep of first, second and third places in the Dairy Trainee category.

Noel and Louise Rockell were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year Category at the West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held in Shantytown on Tuesday night. The other big winners were Krishna Dhakal, who was named the 2020 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year, and Alexis Wells, the 2020 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year.

The Rockells are Contract Milkers on West Coast Dairies Ltd 450ha Maruaia farm milking 1050 cows. They won $6,500 in prizes and four merit awards.

"We love cows, grass, being outdoors and the challenges it brings," say the couple. "Entering the Awards has enhanced our personal development and has been made possible by having supportive farm owners."

The couple aim to progress to farm ownership and are proud of owning their own business, NLR Pastoral Ltd. They are hobbyist beekeepers and have 25 hives which they keep on-farm and sell the honey locally.

"One strength of our business is our debt-free situation which means we can take advantage of any opportunities presented to us," explains Noel. "We also have excellent staff retention - our current 2IC has been with us for the past six seasons."

Since beginning in the dairy industry on the family farm in 2000, Noel and Louise have endured all the challenges farming brings, "From droughts to floods, global recessions, good times, bad times and everything in-between!" says Louise. "Our experience and time in the dairy industry has stood us in good stead"

Noel holds a Degree in Applied Science majoring in Agriculture from Massey University. The couple, both aged 41, are proud of winning the Agricultural Leaders Health and Safety Award at the Dairy Holdings Conference.

"We also designed and developed the ‘Cowculate’ pasture management app which is available for both apple and android devices."

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 partners DairyNZ and Primary ITO.

Runners-up in the West Coast/Top of the South Share Farmer category were Andrew Wiffen and Kate Lambert, aged 32 and 29 years respectively. They won $2,250 in prizes and two merit awards.

The couple are 50/50 sharemilkers for Geoff and Robyn Wiffen on their 89ha, 200-cow farm, both at Hokitika.

The second-time entrants wanted to review their business and network with like-minded farmers and believe the Awards provide the platform to do this.

Andrew grew up on a sheep and beef farm and entered the dairy industry after attending Lincoln University where he gained a Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture) Farm Management. "Growing up farming, I was always interested in a career in the industry," he says.

"I had a pet cow when I was in primary school who I used to hand milk in the paddock occasionally, so it is not too surprising I have ended up dairy farming."

Andrew enjoys working outdoors and with animals. "Each day has its own individual challenges and successes."

Kate grew up on a fruit tree nursery and is a preschool teacher. She works on-farm before and after work and on weekends.

Learning to farm on the West Coast has been a challenge and the couple have drawn on their strength to get things done when they must be done. "We focus on minimizing cost and waste so that debt can be repaid faster and costs are further reduced."

A farming goal already achieved is have a bull calf selected by LIC. "We’ve been lucky enough to have two accepted and aim to have one accepted every year."

Future farming goals include owning their own property and achieving a better work/life balance.

Third place went to Mark Ring and Sarah Hope, first-time entrants who have been dairy farming in New Zealand since 2004. They won $2,000 in prizes and one merit award.

The couple are from family farming backgrounds in the UK and enjoy working with stock and the different challenges each season brings.

Mark and Sarah are contract milking on Malcolm and Caroline Berkett’s 215ha Rai Valley property, milking 570 cows.

The winner of the 2020 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year category began his dairying career in Saudi Arabia in 2002 and says overcoming the language barrier has been his biggest challenge.

Krishna Dhakal won $6,250 in prizes and four merit awards and is the farm manager for Pāmu Farms of New Zealand (formerly Landcorp) 382ha Dobson property, milking 800 cows.

The second-time entrant says there were many benefits of entering the Awards, ranging from the experience to gaining knowledge and discovering new pathways for the future.

"Being brought up in a traditional farming environment developed my passion for farming and influenced my career choice," says Krishna.

The 39-year-old has completed Levels 1-5 of PrimaryITO and is currently studying towards the New Zealand Diploma in Agribusiness Management.

Off-farm, Krishna enjoys helping others in his community, building and gardening. "I like to be involved in many discussion groups."

Krishna is proud he is a farm manager for Pāmu Farms and believes one of the biggest strengths of the business is the way staff are looked after. "They create clear pathways for the future by providing training, encouragement and various other forms of support."

"Health and Safety would be a close second as Pāmu does everything to ensure a safe workplace."

Runner-up in the West Coast Top of the South Dairy Manager category was Rachael Lind who won $2000 in prizes and two merit awards. Rachael was runner-up in the same category last year.

The 36-year-old is Farm Manager for Pāmu Farms of New Zealand (formerly Landcorp), on the 460ha, 1040-cow Cape Foulwind property.

Rachael grew up on a sheep farm in the Marlborough Sounds and entered the dairy industry 20 years ago as a Dairy Assistant, progressing through the industry to her Manager’s role.

"The day after I left college I moved to the West Coast to work on a dairy farm for the summer," she explains. "I fell in love with the cows and haven’t left the industry."

"It can be challenging being a woman in a male-dominated primary industry however I want to show other women who want to further their career that it is achievable and that women are just as capable as their male counterparts."

"Being a woman in a leadership and management role also has its challenges however with greater confidence and support, it gets easier," Rachael says.

Rachael believes if there is something you want, you should persevere until you have succeeded. "Believe in yourself, you don’t know until you try. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something."

Rachael sees the strength of her business lying in the excellent relationship Pāmu Farms of New Zealand has with their staff. "We look after our people and things such as rosters, support networks, health and safety and the wellbeing of staff on a professional and personal level are all a priority," she says.

"Honesty and transparency are two very important things I hold close to me in regard to the day-to-day running of the farm and this filters through the whole farm."

"I enjoy showcasing what we do in the industry to anybody who wants to come through the farm gates and am proud at not only the way we look after our staff and animals but how we farm the land as well."

Luke Chisnall placed third and won $1,500 in prizes and one merit award. The 23-year-old is Farm Manager for Matt and Carmel O’Regan on their 184ha, 490-cow Reefton property.

Luke grew up on a dairy farm in Nelson that was converted into a vineyard when he was five years old. "Dairy farming must still run through me as I find the industry really interesting."

Since beginning as a farm assistant five years ago, Luke has progressed through the industry and is now in his first year of management.

"I chose dairy farming because I love the outdoors and the variety of jobs," he says. "I’m proud to have worked my way up the ladder to become a farm manager. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do."

Women achieved a clean sweep of first, second and third places in the 2020 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year category, with Alexis Wells named the winner.

The 21-year-old is a Farm Assistant on Pāmu Farms of New Zealand (formerly Landcorp) 307ha, 670-cow property in Reefton. She won $6,050 in prizes and three merit awards.

Alexis says judges’ feedback through the Awards process has taught her what she needed to work on to better herself. "We got to meet new people who are interested in the same things as me. It helped to build my confidence," she says.

Staffing shortages within the industry have proved challenging. "We all worked together well and made it work."

"I love the challenges dairy farming brings and love working with animals each day," she says. "I am always learning new things and love the lifestyle. My dream is to own my own farm in the future."

Currently studying Level 4 through PrimaryITO, Alexis has already achieved Level 3 in Husbandry and Feeding.

"Making it to the finals for the Dairy Awards for three years in a row is something I’m really proud of," Alexis says. "My ultimate goal is to win Dairy Trainee 2020!"

Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was 21-year-old Nelson 2IC Dallas Bradley, who won $1,500 in prizes plus a merit award. Dallas works for Phil Riley on their 130ha, 450-cow farm and was runner-up in the same category last year.

"Entering the Awards has given me greater knowledge and understanding of the cows and farm.

I have also found a good group of people that I keep in contact with throughout the year."

"I love my cows, but I also enjoy the variety of work with tractors, irrigators, shed, calves and pasture."

"Working outdoors is definitely my passion and farming really captures my enthusiasm."

Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to 20-year-old Herd Manager Stephanie Gray who won $1,250 in prizes. She works for the Sowman Family’s 261ha, 700-cow farm in Takaka.

"My current role is on a very forward think farming operation with some very knowledgeable people who I’m grateful to be learning from."

The West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on April 07 at 10.30am at 2556 SH65, Maruaia where Share Farmers of the Year, Noel and Louise Rockell contract milk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Krishna Dhakal, and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Alexis Wells. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at

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