Scott and Rebecca O’Brien, are passionate about their business and the dairy industry and believe there are endless opportunities at all levels.
The couple were announced winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Awakeri Events Centre on Friday night.
The other big winners were Hayden Purvis who was named the 2022 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year, and Thomas Lundman, the 2022 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year.
Scott (39) and Rebecca (41) are 50/50 sharemilking over two farms - Rory & Susan Gordon’s 260ha Galatea 650-cow property, and Peter & Cathy Brown’s 100ha, 250-cow property. They won $9,800 and four merit awards.
Scott grew up on a dairy farm, and when it was sold when he was 13, he knew the journey hadn’t ended for him.
“I just love working with animals and the diverse day-to-day tasks of being a farmer.
“We love the leadership we offer to our staff and the lifestyle it provides for our family. The knowledge that we are feeding the world gives us immense satisfaction in what we are doing.”
The O’Briens see themselves growing into governance and leadership roles.
“This will enable us to give back to the industry that has given so much to us.
“We’d like to help other reach their goals and aspirations by showing them there is no limit to what can be achieved with hard work, support and passion in the dairy industry.”
Scott, who was named 2011 Central Plateau Farm Manager of the Year, says entering the Awards programme gave him and Rebecca the opportunity to really look at what they were doing and set future goals.
“Through goal-setting during the Awards process, we purchased a rental property which enabled us to purchase cows for our current sharemilking positions.
“We love the positive influence the Awards have on the industry, for everyone to see.”
The couple are proud to have achieved herd ownership of 900 cows four years into sharemilking, while maintaining and enhancing relationships with everyone that has been on the journey with them.
Future farming goals include farm ownership by 2027.
“We plan to continue to large-scale share milk until then to ensure we build enough equity to achieve our farm ownership goal.
“Once ownership is achieved, we plan to provide contract milking or sharemilking opportunities to someone who is on a similar career path we are on now.”
Rebecca and Scott would like to see a change in negatives views towards the dairy industry.
“Most dairy farmers are doing the right thing.
“If we can continue to treat our people right, care for our animals and land in the right way, be as sustainable as possible whilst learning and developing in an ever-changing industry, then it’s going to continue to do so much more than feed the world, which in itself is exciting.”
Challenges the couple have faced and overcome include the loss of stock due to natural disaster and facial eczema in their second year of sharemilking.
“A multi-layered approach in conjunction with our vets around facial eczema has been key to overcoming this challenge,” say the couple.
“Also, comprehensive stock loss insurance cover will support the challenge of natural disaster, should it happen again.”
Scott and Rebecca recognise the importance of a work/life balance and keeping physically fit and healthy.
“Having that balance enables us to be present and in the zone when we are working, while also showing our children Hunter (12), Summer (10) and Piper (8), that hard work has the rewards of a good lifestyle.”
The O’Briens are grateful for the relationships they have in the industry. “We love that we can show our staff we are a story based on a ‘Can Do’ attitude.’
The couple identify the culture and strong, respectful relationships with all members of their team as a strength of their business, along with running their business sustainably.
“This is something we both have a huge passion for and we strive to instil this into all of our staff and wider relationships.”
The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown along with industry partners DairyNZ and MediaWorks.
Runners-up in the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year category was Alvaro Borghi and Natalia Zefferino who won $5,375 in prizes and four merit awards.
The couple are contract milking on Roger and Lexie McCosh’s 205ha Te Puke farm, milking 650 cows.
The first-time entrants thought this year would be a good time to experience the Awards programme and share their farming experience with others.
“We wanted to benchmark ourselves and our farming practices with others in the dairy industry, and build more confidence.”
Alvaro (38) and Natalia (43) arrived in New Zealand from Uruguay in 2006. Both came from a farming background in Uruguay, with Alvaro in dairy and Natalia in beef and sheep.
“We come from many generations farmers and it is in our blood,” they say. “We never ask ourselves why we are farming, because we just love it as a lifestyle.”
“We believe that sustainability will play a key role in the future of New Zealand farming. Grass-based systems, like the one we are currently running, that look after the animals, the environment and the people will ensure New Zealand is well-positioned and will give competitive advantaged for the country in the world market.
Natalia holds a Bachelor of Science (Agronomy), and a Diploma in Agribusiness Management. She has also taken the Intermediate and Advanced Sustainable Nutrient Management courses through Massey University while Alvaro is a qualified AB Technician.
The couple identify the English language as a challenge they have overcome along with being away from family in Uruguay.
They are both proud they have successfully transitioned a TAD herd of 650 cows to a full-season OAD, and achieved the same TAD production in the second year.
“A full season OAD system has given better work and lifestyle balance for us and our staff. We are both ‘hands-on’ farmers and we know we will still be farming for a while,” say Natalia and Alvaro.
“We have always looked for a way to give us everything we want: quality of life, profitability and sustainability. We have reached that type of system we are comfortable working at.”
Future farming goals include taking on another 50/50 sharemilking in the area and working both simultaneously, with a long term goal of farm ownership.
Chance and Racheal Church placed third in the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer category and won $3,150 in prizes.
The couple are contract milkers for Brendan Gaskill, milking 300 cows on their 130ha property.
Chance was the 2020 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year and says as well as meeting new people and opportunities, the Awards programme and winning gave him a better sense of self-worth. “It was a huge accomplishment and a very proud memory.”
Chance and Racheal (both 34) would like to gain two more contracts in the coming season, with an ultimate goal of multiple farm ownership, run with excellent systems.
“We have a big family with six children and we have come from nothing,” say the couple. “We’re self-made, humbly confident go-getters, driven by growth.”
The winner of the 2022 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year category was runner-up in the 2021 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year and believes the Awards programme helped him to meet new people in the area.
“I was thrilled to come runner-up last year. The feedback is always helpful and makes you strive for more.”
Hayden Purvis won $7,785 in prizes plus two merit awards and is Farm Manager for Peter Overdevest and Tania Akehurst on their 148ha Galatea farm, milking 400 cows.
Prior to entering the dairy industry 8 years ago, Hayden was studying a Bachelor of Agriculture at Lincoln University and is now aiming towards his PrimaryITO Level 4.
Hayden (28) says his wife Deborah and daughters Lucy (2) and Sophie (1) provide him with the motivation to get up in the morning during challenging times.
“I know that a rural upbringing is what I want for my kids, so even when it’s raining, cold and wet outside, I know that my family admires me for being out there, working on the farm for them and us as a family unit.”
Hayden wants to ensure he is continuing to challenge himself and reach his full potential in the industry, so is moving to an 800-cow farm in the Waikato next season. “I hope to increase my staff management skills and ensure I don’t become complacent.”
Empathy and resilience are two strengths of the current farm. “As a farm unit, we have empathy for the animals we work with. We are like their guardians.”
“Being a true dryland farm in a drought-prone area has its challenges,” says Hayden. “But with the systems we have we are able to combat the adversities Mother Nature throws at us.”
Hayden believes the dairy industry needs to do more to retain workers. “Too often you see people start out in the industry then leave after a couple of months.
“We need to promote the industry as more than just a job, it’s a career path and lifestyle.”
Quinn Morgan is the runner-up in the 2022 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager category and won $2,560 and one merit award.
He is farm manager for Shona Pedersen on their 95ha, 280-cow property at Galatea.
Quinn placed third in the 2021 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee category and was named the 2021 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer of the Year.
“The networking through the Awards is second-to-none, with a lot of great people are willing to help you in your journey,” he says. “It brings the best out of people and it also brings out that competitive edge.”
“Most importantly, we get to celebrate each other’s success.”
Currently in his second season dairy farming, Quinn returned to New Zealand from Perth, where he’d been working in the health and fitness industry. He and his wife Samantha (26) have three children Peyton (5), Regin (4) and Roman (3).
“Farming ticked all the boxes for us. I get to spend more quality time with my family, I get to work outdoors with animals and in the elements,” Quinn says.
“The farming community is like no other and has embraced us with open arms.”
Quinn is excited by the amount of innovation and technology in the industry. “I see myself as helping new people into the industry and I’m also part of the inaugural Dairy Sector Workforce Resilience Plan, led by DairyNZ, to retain and grow skilled staff.”
A Farm4Life ambassador, challenges Quinn had faced and overcome include sole responsibility on-farm. “I learnt so much about myself and built time management skills and grit for harder times.”
Strengths of the farm and business include team work, and the size of the farm. “Being able to manage the whole farm as sole charge is an advantage.”
“I get to go to work every day and do something I love, which enables me to be an asset to the workplace, and with the seasonal changes that farming offers, I get to spend quality time at home also.”
Thomas Lundman is the 2022 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year and won $6050 in prizes and one merit awards. He was runner-up in the same category in 2021.
“I found the Awards programme a great way to hone my skills, as well as find gaps in my knowledge to improve on,” he says.
“I also enjoy the social aspects and networking it allowed.”
Thomas (24) grew up on a dairy farm and in his second season in the dairy industry, working as a nature guide in Fiordland for five years previously.
He is currently Farm Assistant for Michael and Linda Mexted on their 140ha Whakatane farm milking 550 cows.
“I enjoy the clear path of career progression in the dairy industry, but also the hard-work and hands-on nature of the work.
“I’m excited to see New Zealand continue to lead the way in sustainable dairy farming,” says Thomas. “I see myself as someone who will do my best to farm to the best practices.”
“The ‘dirty dairying’ perception is unwarranted, and I would like to change that perception.”
Future farming goals include farm or herd ownership.
“It’s been challenging to learn an entirely new industry and gain confidence in my skills,” says Thomas. “I enjoy taking every opportunity presented to me and relish a challenge.”
Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was Niamh Mark, who works for Peter Mark on his 100ha, 280-cow Te Puke property as Trainee Farm Manager. Niamh won $2050 in prizes.
The first-time entrant hoped to grow her career in the industry, meet new people, network and learn some new skills.
Niamh has been in her current position for two and a half years. “I grew up on the farm I work on, however it was sheep and beef and was converted to dairy in 2014.”
After gaining her Bachelor in Agricultural Science at Massey University and working for AsureQuality in the mycoplasma bovis unit, she accepted the position on the family farm.
“At first it was hard, I was out of my depth and missed having work mates,” says Niamh. “Then Covid came and I decided to stay longer and have grown to love it.”
“It’s a very rewarding job, I love having the opportunity to be my own boss, problem solving and being responsible for the cows and the land.”
The 24-year-old feels there will is a shift in farming systems to benefit lifestyle, the environment and cow welfare using new innovative ideas and advancing technologies.
“I see myself growing with the industry, there’s still a lot I don’t know so I’m keen to progress, develop new skills and keep learning.”
Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to Keegan Blennerhassett who is farm assistant on David Jensen’s 310ha property at Omanawa, milking 700 cows.
“It’s been awesome to meet some role models in the industry through the Awards programme,” says Keegan. “They have shown me what I want to become and how realistic it is.”
The Awards and judging was good for self-progression and discovering where I compare with others and what I need to focus and improve on.”
Keegan is excited to see the impact research and technology will have on the industry and enjoys seeing the new studies from DairyNZ.
“I would like to be in the position where I can try new things to make my operation a better place.”
The Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on Tuesday 29 March at 1751 Troutbeck Road, Galatea S/N Fonterra 22307 where Share Farmers of the Year, Scott and Rebecca O’Brien are share milking. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Hayden Purvis and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Thomas Lundman. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at www.dairyindustryawards.co.nz.
Share Farmer Merit Awards:
- DairyNZ – People and Culture Award Scott & Rebecca O’Brien
- Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award Natalia Zefferino & Alvaro Borghi
- Federated Farmers Leadership Award Natalia Zefferino & Alvaro Borghi
- Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award Scott & Rebecca O’Brien
- LIC – Animal Wellbeing, Recording and Productivity Award Scott & Rebecca O’Brien
- Meridian Environmental Sustainability Award Natalia Zefferino & Alvaro Borghi
- Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award Natalia Zefferino & Alvaro Borghi
- QCONZ Business Performance Award Scott & Rebecca O’Brien
- Perrin Ag Emerging Talent Award Edward & Kate Dowzall
Dairy Manager Merit Awards:
- DeLaval Livestock Management Award Hayden Purvis
- Fonterra Dairy Management Award Hayden Purvis
- Whakatane District Council Environmental Sustainability Award Daniel Harrison
- I.S Dam Lining Pasture & Feed Management Award Hayden Purvis
- BlackmanSpargo Rural Law Ltd People & Leadership Award Daniel Harrison
- Vetora Bay of Plenty Personal Planning & Financial Management Award Quinn Morgan
- FARMit Accountants Ltd Emerging Talent Award Brendan Teka
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
- DairyNZ Practical Skills Award Shaun Woods
- Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Emerging Talent Award Chihiro Hanyuda
- MilkBar Farming Knowledge Award Thomas Lundman
- King Farm Service Ltd Communication & Industry Involvement Award Niamh Mark