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2023 Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards Winners Announced

An exceptionally wet spring and summer combined with adverse weather challenges early this year severely impacted entrant numbers in the Manawatū dairy industry awards programme.

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 wanting to take part in the Awards programme and benefiting from doing so, not allowing them to participate goes against the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards’ 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, Manawatū Share Farmer entrant scores were benchmarked against the national average, with data collated from the 10 other regions.

This means merit awards are awarded if the entrant achieved at the right level.

Hayden McDonald was named 2023 Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards Share Farmer of the Year category at the region’s annual awards announced in Palmerston North on Saturday night. The other major winners were José Hamber, the 2023 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year, and Sarah Powell, the 2023 Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Hayden won $12,375in prizes and five merit awards. He is a 50/50 sharemilker for Terry and Olive Curtis on their 120ha, 345-cow property at Palmerston North.

The future of the dairy industry looks bright to Hayden who is particularly interested in the technology that is being developed and introduced.

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The 37-year-old has wanted to be a farmer for as long he can remember and is grateful he is able to live his dream every day.

Hayden has achieved PrimaryITO Levels 2, 3 and 4 and cites the farm’s pasture-based system as a strength of his business. “We are very profitable and can handle the low-payout years. We also have a high-producing herd.”

Achieving number one SCC status with Fonterra in the Manawatū this season is something Hayden is proud of, as is achieving his goal of purchasing run-off land.

Future farming goals are specific and include owning a 200-250-cow once-a-day dairy farm, that is fully irrigated and on good soil type.

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian, Ravensdown, and Trelleborg, along with industry partners DairyNZ, MediaWorks and Rural Training Solutions NZ.

The 2023 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year is José Hamber who won $7,625 in prizes and four merit awards.

The second-time entrant is farm manager on Rob and Frances Crothers’ 350ha, 1100-cow property in Cheltenham, working for Colin Beazley, the 2019 Northland and New Zealand Share Farmer of the Year.

“You step out of your comfort-zone by opening yourself up to be judged,” says José. “Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t, but every time you gain knowledge to improve yourself.”

“Entering the Awards has opened up job opportunities that otherwise I would not have found. It’s allowed me to connect with and form life-long friendships with industry professionals.”

Growing up in Auckland with no history of farming in his family, José chose to study agriculture at University and holds a Bachelor of AgriScience from Massey University.

“I was fascinated with all things farming and tractors from two years old, and this grew exponentially through to my teenage years, spending my school holidays on my uncle’s farm,” remembers José. “Farming as a career seemed like a natural progression.”

José loves that farming challenges him on a daily basis, with no two days alike. “Every problem has more than one solution, and requires me to use the full range of my knowledge and experience.”

After 12 years in the industry, José is positive about the future of the New Zealand dairy industry.

“It’s one of the most efficient in the world yet more and more is being demanded from it. The challenges revolve around sustainability and quality; two of the key factors that will allow us to maintain our leadership.”

José would like to see the farming industry take charge of the narrative around farming. “We need to show New Zealanders that farmers work hard for the benefit of the country and to improve everyone’s stand of living.”

Future farming goals for José and his wife Kirby include farm ownership. “To get there, we would move into a 50/50 sharemilking position where we can improve the herd’s genetics focusing on animals that convert grass to milk whilst minimizing secretion to the ground.”

Having a small farm consultancy business is also in the future for José.

A work/life balance is extremely important to José, his family and his staff. “It’s an opportunity to forget about work, relax and refresh the body and mind before heading back to start a new working week.”

“Having staff that are refreshed and happy makes for a positive working environment and I have definitely seen the benefits of this over the last two seasons.”

Foxton assistant farm manager Toko Wilson placed second in the Dairy Manager category, winning $2,275 in prizes.

Toko works on Pāmu Farms of New Zealand 464-cow, 194ha property and entered the Awards to experience the programme and challenge himself.

“I’m excited for the possibilities that open up by participating in the Awards programme – it definitely makes you think about where you want to be and where you see yourself in the coming years.”

The first-time entrant cites his family and support network as motivation to push through challenging times on-farm and come out stronger.

“I have a genuine love for farming and want to support my team in achieving our target goals for the year.”

Future farming goals for the 32-year-old include managing and then progressing to contract milking, with a long-term goal of owning a lifestyle block and teaching in the agriculture industry. “I’d like to guide people to succeed in their farming journey.”

Third placegetter in the 2023 Manawatū Dairy Manager category is Andrew Marshall who won $1,350 in prizes and two merit awards.

Andrew is farm manager on Scott and Kim Johansen’s 95ha, 200-cow Tangimoana property.

The 39-year-old identifies the breeding programe on-farm as ‘mind-blowing’. “Watching it take shape has been really fun and will ultimately benefit the farm in many ways with production and general all-round animals”

“Our low-input system is great because it means we can be fairly flexible but it’s important to get pasture management correct as it’s the baseline of our farm.”

The 2023 Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year is Sarah Powell, who is farm assistant on Fonterra’s 283ha, 600-cow Longburn farm. She won $7,100 in prizes and one merit award.

“Colleagues have entered the Awards in past years and they strongly encouraged others to give it a go, for the learning opportunities and to highlight focus areas.

“I spent my childhood on a 90ha dairy heifer grazing and beef farm in Northland where is where I learned to love the outdoors, but up until my current position, I hadn’t spent any time working in the dairy industry.”

The first-time entrant is excited to see what else technology is going to bring to the industry. “It’s evident over the years just how big a role technology has had in influencing the direction of the industry, from apps on our phone through to collars.”

“It’s also exciting to note the increase of women in the workforce and I’m happy to be one of those women contributing to the industry.”

Sarah would like to see a change in farmer’s routines to help create a better work/life balance, minimising fatigue and social isolation.

Currently studying towards PrimaryITO Level 4 Dairy, Sarah says her focus is about learning at the moment and taking any opportunities that arise. Future farming goals include progressing to a farm managing position.

“I’m proud of how quickly I’ve been picking things up and how much knowledge and technical skills I have gained over the past year.”

“I’ve gone from never working on a farm to being proficient at the day-to-day tasks and helping train new staff.”

Farm Assistant Jessie Russell placed second in the Dairy Trainee category and won $1,450 in prizes and one merit award. She placed second in the same category last year.

Jessie works on Rob and Frances Crothers’ 350ha, 1100-cow property in Cheltenham.

“The networking opportunities the Awards programme are huge, you meet a lot of other farmers and sponsors and make new friends and connections.”

“It’s a great way to put yourself out there in the farming community and is a lot of fun too.”

The 25-year-old is a self-described ‘information hoarder’ and loves learning and experiencing new and different ways of performing tasks.

“The amount of technology that’s being released for the dairy industry is huge and I’m excited to see where it will take us in years to come.”

Courtney West was third in the Dairy Trainee category. She is herd manager on Rob and Frances Crothers’ 350ha, 1100-cow property in Cheltenham and won $1,300 in prizes.

The Manawatū Dairy Industry Awards field day will be held at 10.30am on 13 April 2023 at 136 Aranui Road

Palmerston North S/N Fonterra 45539 where Manawatū Share Farmer of the Year, Hayden McDonald sharemilks. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, José Hamber and the Manawatū Dairy Trainee of the Year, Sarah Powell. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at

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