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Rugby Pro Turns Farm Pro To Win North Otago Dairy Awards

Rugby Pro Turns Farm Pro To Win Canterbury North Otago Dairy Awards

A former professional rugby player has proved equally as competitive in dairy farming by winning the premier contest at the 2014 Canterbury North Otago Dairy Industry Awards.

Kevin and Sara O’Neill won the 2014 Canterbury North Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title, and $19,000 in prizes with it.

Mr O’Neill is a former Crusaders, Chiefs and Rebels rugby player. He gained an All Blacks cap when he came off the bench in an All Blacks loss to the Springboks in Dunedin in 2008. The giant lock and his valuer wife switched their focus to dairy farming in 2011.

The other major winners at the 2014 Canterbury North Otago Dairy Industry Awards were Phillip Colombus, who won the Canterbury North Otago Farm Manager of the Year title, and Isaac Vujcich, the region’s 2014 Dairy Trainee of the Year. They were announced winners at an awards dinner at the Lincoln Events Centre last night .

Kevin and Sara O’Neill have had just over two years in the dairy industry, beginning with a six month stint as farm managers before entering a partnership as equity farm managers on Mrs O’Neill’s family farm at Waiau, North Canterbury.

The couple oversee an 1190-cow herd on the 340ha farm and have Duncan and Olivia Rutherford, and James and Belinda McCone as their equity partners.

The O’Neills both have agricultural degrees from Lincoln University and both grew up on farms.

“A real strength of our business is we’ve got strong governance in place, with a Board of six containing two independent directors. We’ve also got opportunities for scale and development and both of these aspects allow for clear planning and growth.”

The couple are both aged 31 and have two young children. They say their future lies in multiple farm ownership.

Second in the sharemilker/equity farmer contest went to Culverden equity sharemilkers James and Ceri Bourke, who won $9700 in prizes. Ashburton 20% sharemilker Liam Kelly was third, winning $6700 in prizes.

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors Westpac, DairyNZ, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda Motorcycles NZ, LIC, Meridian Energy, Ravensdown, RD1 and Triplejump, along with industry partner Primary ITO (formerly AgITO).
History is repeating itself for newly crowned Canterbury North Otago Farm Manager of the Year, Phillip Colombus, a farm manager for Ngai Tahu Farming at Oxford.

It is the second time Mr Colombus has entered the awards and the second time he has come out on top. In 2006 he won the Upper South Island Dairy Trainee of the Year title.

He says he enters the awards to further his career. In the process the 30-year-old collected $10,100 in prizes.

From Christchurch city, he has worked his way up the industry and enjoys the opportunities provided by Ngai Tahu Farming on the 1300-cow property he is managing.

“Ngai Tahu Farming is committed to sustainability and to the continuous improvement of the environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes associated with its farms. They have also provided us with a high standard of dairy farm conversion with all the latest technology and infrastructure to allow us to run a successful business for them.”

Mr Colombus and his wife, Melissa, plan to progress to sharemilking and ultimately farm ownership.

Second in the farm manager contest was Rakaia farm manager Steve Veix, who won $3650. Also farm managing at Rakaia, Jonathon and Stacey Hoets, were third winning $4250.

A decision to turn his back on city work has proved to be a good one for the 2014 Canterbury North Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year, Isaac Vujcich.

Mr Vujcich had spent four years working in IT and then completed a Bachelor of Business Studies majoring in management and marketing before deciding that farming was for him. “I didn’t want to work in the city.”

The 28-year-old is just completing his second season in the dairy industry, as 2IC on Graham Bain’s 730-cow Oxford farm.

He won $5000 in prizes. He says the dairy industry awards had helped him to address weaknesses. “It has also helped build my confidence in work and in general, and I’ve enjoyed meeting new people in the dairy industry and building on those relationships.”

His future plans are to continue to progress in the industry and to be “smart and profitable” with money to achieve his ultimate goal of farm ownership.

Darfield assistant farm manager Brad Fallaver, aged 27 years, placed second in the dairy trainee contest, winning $3000, and 24-year-old Lincoln assistant manager Adam Vollebregt was third, winning $650.

Canterbury North Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmers of the Year, Kevin and Sarah O’Neill, will host a field day onApril 1, while Farm Manager of the Year, Phillip Colombus, will host a field day on the Oxford farm he manages on March 25. Further details on the winners and field days can be found on

Sharemilker/Equity Farmer Merit Awards:
• Riverside Vets Animal Health Award - Mark & Vanessa Shefford
• DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Liam Kelly
• Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Liam Kelly
• Federated Farmers of New Zealand Leadership Award – James & Ceri Bourke
• Honda Farm Safety and Health Award – Kevin & Sara O’Neill
• LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Mark & Vanessa Shefford
• Meridian Energy Farm Environment Award – James & Ceri Bourke
• Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Cole Harris
• Triplejump Risk Management Award – Kevin & Sara O’Neill
• Westpac Business Performance Award – Kevin & Sara O’Neill

Farm Manager Merit Awards:
• Pye Group Most Promising Farm Manager – Mark Cudmore
• Scansouth Best Livestock Award - Jonathon & Stacey Hoets
• TH Enterprises Ltd Leadership Award – Phillip Colombus
• Fonterra Best Practice Award – Jonathon & Stacey Hoets
• Primary ITO Human Resource Management Award – Steve Veix
• RD1 Farm Management Award – Phillip Colombus
• Westpac Financial Planning and Management Award – Phillip Colombus

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
• Ngai Tahu Farming Knowledge Award – Brad Fallaver
• FarmRight Leadership Award – Fiona McRae
• DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Brad Fallaver


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