Jono and Kerri Robson were named the 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Share Farmers of the Year at the region’s annual awards last night in Masterton. Other major winners were Amarjeet Kamboj, the 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Manager of the Year, and Jacob Stolte, the 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Trainee of the Year.
The Robson’s are 50/50 herd-owning sharemilkers on Dean Nikora and Alexandra Stewart’s 119ha, 350-cow Waipukurau property. They won $10.586 in prizes and six merit awards.
Jono and Kerri have entered the Share Farmer category twice previously, while Jono is also a past entrant in the Dairy Manager category.
They say entering the Awards programme in the past has had many benefits, primarily the increased focus on their business and business practices.
“We enjoyed the relationships and other networking avenues that the Awards opened up for us and found it inspiring to meet industry powerhouses at the Awards dinners.”
“The Awards helped us recognise the purpose and direction that was best for our business and the feedback provided by the judges was invaluable and knowledgeable.”
The couple have been in the dairy industry for nine years together, with Jono a variable sharemilker in the South Island prior to meeting Kerri.
Jono holds a Diploma of Agriculture from Telford, while Kerri has a Bachelor in Business Studies and is currently studying towards a postgraduate qualification in Agribusiness from Massey University.
Jono enjoys the variety of work farming offers and finds the pathway to become your own boss very appealing. “Kerri and I chose farming due to the lifestyle it created for us and our children. I love how our children invent fun from work!”
Kerri had no farming experience prior to meeting Jono. “I’m now involved in all aspects of the farm from the physical work to networking to the agribusiness side of things.”
“I love the life farming provides and the experiences our kids are fortunate to live.”
The Robsons are excited to be part of the future New Zealand dairy industry and feel key points would be around animal management technology, breeding improvements and the use of cows’ diets to minimise environmental impacts.
“We see ourselves as the new generation coming through and strive to be leaders in the industry who will drive it forward in the most sustainable and ethical way possible.”
With that in mind, the couple are changing the way they approach newcomers to the industry. “We are here to employ, support and train newcomers because we want a successful succession journey within the industry.”
“It’s our vision that others to see the industry in the light we see it.”
Future farming goals include purchasing a dry stock block to create a waste-free closed system and diversifying into beef animals from their dairy stock. “We are going to use animal management technology to manage multiple farms, successfully.”
“We intend to remain prominent players in the industry through consulting roles, agribusiness avenues and to keep the gateway open for incoming sharemilkers on our own farms.”
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, and Ravensdown, along with industry partners DairyNZ and MediaWorks.
In a year of challenges, several Share Farmer entrants made the difficult decision to withdraw leaving the Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa with two entrants.
Traditionally, when a region has low entrant numbers, places are only offered to winner and runner-up, or just the winner only, and when entrant numbers were very low, the category did not proceed.
However, with entrants interested in taking part and benefiting from doing so, not allowing them to participate goes against the New Zealand Dairy Industry Award’s philosophy and what the programme is striving to achieve. That approach also forces a winner of the category when the entrant may not be ready to progress to Nationals.
This year Hawke’s Bay Share Farmer entrants scores were benchmarked against the national average, with data collated from the 10 other regions.
This means merit awards can be awarded if the entrant achieved at the right level. Winner, runner-up or third place can also be awarded, again depending on scores achieved.
Third place in the 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Share Farmer of the Year category went to Chaminda Wijesooriya & Thilania Aththudawa who won $1,287 in prizes and three merit awards.
Chaminda and Thilanka are contract milking for Mark Eagle on his 227ha Eketahuna property, milking 550 cows.
The couple entered the Awards to gain experience and to analyse their business. “We wanted to prove to ourselves that hard work can pay off.”
Growing up in Sri Lanka in a farming family, Chaminda saw his grandfather looking after a small herd of 15 cows everyday. “I’ve only ever worked as a dairy farmer.”
Gaining their New Zealand residency visa enabled the couple to begin contract milking, after spending the previous seven years managing dairy farms in the Canterbury region.
Future farming goals include owning a kiwi-cross herd within the next three years and farm ownership. “We would like to help protect the environment by educating ourselves to minimise the environmental impact.”
The 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Manager of the Year, Amarjeet Kamboj, won $6,897 in prizes plus four merit awards.
Amarjeet is farm manager for Dairy Farm Investments on the 190ha, 550-cow farm at Pahiatua.
Prior to coming to New Zealand in 2014 to study business, Amarjeet was a poultry and small-scale dairy farmer in India. “I lived for a year in Auckland but just wasn’t feeling my type of life and began farming in Northland.”
“Dairy farming in New Zealand is very advanced compared to India and there is a lot of opportunity,” says Amarjeet.
“The whole world needs good quality food and I want to contribute my part in producing quality milk.”
The 33-year-old believes a Milk Quality and Health and Safety course should be compulsory for everyone who wants to work on a dairy farm.
Amarjeet identifies obtaining employers support for his visa as a challenge. “Many farmers are not aware that supporting an employee for their visa is not a big process. There should be more education around this so all farmers can understand.”
Amarjeet holds a Bachelor in Commerce and a Masters of Commerce, both from India as well as a Diploma in Business from New Zealand. He has obtained PrimaryITO Level 4.
“My biggest success is my quality of work in the dairy industry over the past seven years,” says Amarjeet.
Future farming goals are smart and realistic. “I want to sharemilk 400 cows in 2-3 years and my long-term goal is to own a 300-cow farm in eight years.”
Runner-up in the Dairy Manager category was Aled Ellis who works for KG & Estate JB Cassells on the 67ha, 195-cow Pahiatua property. He won $2,657 and one merit award.
Aled says the knowledge that he’s working towards a future goal for himself and his family and enjoys milking cows that produce well, helps to drive him during challenging times.
The 35-year-old identifies the weather and Covid as his biggest challenges. “Staffing has been a big issue which has resulted in less days off or away from farm.”
“I’m aware of how this can affect us mentally and it’s something I’m always conscious of.”
Originally from the UK where he grew up on a family dairy farm, Aled came to New Zealand five years ago to experience a different farming system.
“Demand for dairy is high and New Zealand is the most efficient and climate-friendly dairy producers in the world, despite government and mainstream media ignoring this aspect,” he says.
“We will have to get more production from less cows, lower stocking rates and less nitrogen usage.”
“I’m passionate about the dairy industry and despite its challenges I see myself as part of the solution going forward.”
The third placegetter in the Dairy Manager category says having clear systems and procedures in place leads to greater efficiency and profitability.
René ten Bolscher is farm manager for Clarence and Elise Stolte’s 170ha, 500-cow farm at Carterton. He won $1,653 in prizes and one merit award and placed third in the same category last year.
The 2022 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Trainee of the Year is Jacob Stolte who placed second in the same category last year.
Jacob is herd manager on Willem & Roelie Stolte and Clarence & Elise Stolte’s 170ha, 350-cow farm at West Taratahi. He won $7,043 in prizes and two merit awards.
The third-time entrant saw the Awards as an opportunity to meet other young dairy farmers who have a similar passion to excel in their field.
“Feedback from the judges was really positive, they all had excellent advice for future growth in the industry.”
“Farming is in my blood and I’ve wanted to be a dairy farmer for as long as I can remember,” says Jacob. “I love the satisfaction of a job well done.”
Jacob would like to see a change in the public perception of dairy farmers. “I’d love to see farmers welcoming people to come on farm to show them that we aren’t all bad and we actually do our best to be the environmentally-friendly farmers they expect us to be.”
Jacob says it can be challenging to be excited about the future of the dairy industry when it’s in a period of massive upheaval and change.
“But when I look around I see the dairy industry fighting for fair decisions, fighting to be the change, to be the best farmers we can be.”
“I’m proud to be a dairy farmer and I’m certain I can be part of that change, no matter how small.”
Woodville senior farm assistant Heidi Tarbotton was second in the Dairy Trainee category, winning $1,554 in prizes. She works for Ben and Nicky Allomes on their 290ha, 700-cow property.
Heidi wishes the general New Zealand public understood more about what farmers do. “We are making many improvements and much has improved.”
Production Manager Martin Rostagno was third. He works for Jenny & Selwyn McLachlan on their 210ha, 860-cow Masterton property.
Martin came to New Zealand after graduating from university in Argentina as an Agronomist. “I came for just one year to learn about the grass system, but once I arrived here I fell in love with the country.”
Martin identifies his whole time in New Zealand as challenging. “I’ve been away from my family for the first time, first time on a plane, needed to learn a new language – even asking questions was a challenge!”
The Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Industry Awards field day will be held at 10.30am on 13 April 2022 at 3543 State Highway 2, RD1 Waipukurau, where Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Share Farmers of the Year, Jono & Kerri Robson share milk. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Amarjeet Kamboj and the Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Trainee of the Year, Jacob Stolte. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz.