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Bay Of Plenty Dairy Industry Award Winners Enjoying The Journey

The major winners in the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards, Sophia Clark and Aaron Mills, say they love their cows and are enjoying their journey in the dairy industry.

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 George King who was named the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year, and Luke Feisst, the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Sophia and Aaron cite their family and creating a future for their children as motivators. “Our vision is ‘enjoying the journey’ which means enjoying our cows and enjoying what we do.”

The couple are 50/50 sharemilking for Bernie Hermann on his 160ha, 540-cow Te Puke farm. They won $13,775 in prizes and four merit awards.

Sophia and Aaron say entering the Awards previously gave them an opportunity to benchmark their business, not become complacent about costs and encouraged them to do a deep dive into their farm as a whole.

“We see the future of dairying as very exciting with farm ownership on the horizon for us,” they say. “We’re proud to be 35-year-olds in control of a multi-million dollar asset and that we have built equity from nothing.”

The couple would like to see some older farm owners change their mindset to help retain young people in the industry.

“We’ve been given so much mentorship and assistance into our first herd from a large-scale business, and we will be forever grateful.”

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“I wish I could show young students studying business that dairy is a viable option and sharemilking is a viable framework for building an asset,” says Sophia, who holds a Bachelor of Agri Commerce from Lincoln University.

Future farming goals include debt repayment, farm ownership and continuing to enjoy farming.

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

Runners-up in the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year category were Hayden and Chelsea Goodall. Hayden was the 2017 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee and the 2021 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year, and the 2021 National Dairy Manager Runner-up.

The couple are contract milkers for the Gow Family Trust, employed by Matt & Laura Gow and Shona Gow on their 213ha Whakatane farm, milking 650 cows. They won $5,450 in prizes and three merit awards.

Hayden and Chelsea credit the Awards programme with helping their career progression and thinking about what they do daily as a bigger picture.

“It is an amazing networking programme drawing people together throughout New Zealand who are like minded but who experience different challenges to those we face, enabling us all to learn and grow from each other as well as receive invaluable and insightful feedback from the judges,” they say.

The couple cite many aspects in which people are a strength of their business. “From our staff, our farm owners and the support systems off farm, they all play a part in our operation.”

“We strive for a great company culture where all our staff are valued and want to see progress. We aim to have great communication and relationships with everyone who has an impact on our business.”

Thomas Houston placed third in the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer category and won $3,000 in prizes and one merit award.

The 32-year-old is a 50/50 sharemilker for James and Gill Houston, milking 160 cows on the 65ha Houston Family Trust property at Opotiki.

The winner of the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year category is George King, who won $8,225 and two merit awards.

The 26-year-old is farm manager for Mike and Kaye Watkins on their 161ha Whakatane farm, milking 500 cows.

George grew up on rented dairy farms in the UK where his parents operated a New Zealand-style pasture-based system, and holds a Diploma in Agriculture specialising in livestock production.

A working holiday in New Zealand saw him working on a 1000-cow farm near Balclutha, then returning to the UK to a manager role on a 600-cow farm.

“When I was working in New Zealand in 2019, I saw the industry pathway which has been carved by many before me and knew that this is where I needed to be,” George explains.

Love saw him return to the UK to support his partner Hannah to complete her study, and he searched for career opportunities in the UK that were similar to the New Zealand pathway.

“That search only confirmed that we needed to move to New Zealand; so we reached out to employers who took a leap of faith and gave us jobs from the other side of the world.”

“It was a challenge to get here for the start of the season, but we overcame this with the Accredited Employers Work Visa and now we are here – with residency approved!”

George is proud of the livestock he has reared and was pleased with the liveweight gain and return on investment.

“I’m also really proud to have achieved a new farm record with an empty rate of 8% and 6 week in-calf rate of 72%.

George sees himself as being part of a successful, diversified and efficient business producing milk from grass.

“I’m excited about new technologies in the dairy industry and understandings that can improve business efficiencies and sustainability.”

Future farming goals include progressing to sharemilking and onto farm ownership. “I’d like to be known as a reputable employer with sustainable practices, and eventually host UK overseas experiences.”

Lindsay Williams is the runner-up in the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager category and won $3,600 and two merit award.

Lindsay works for Cameron Dairy Farms Ltd on the 118ha, 330-cow property at Te Puke.

The 31-year-old placed third in the same category in 2023 and cites that placing as a massive achievement.

Lindsay says entering the Awards programme has many benefits including increasing his general industry knowledge and gaining a better understanding of the farm and different farming systems.

As I’ve become more involved with the industry awards, I’ve become more involved in the industry and it has pushed me to go beyond what I thought was possible.”

Reno Moses was awarded third placegetter in the Dairy Manager category. The 26-year-old is farm manager on Peter and Cathy Brown’s 102ha Galatea property, milking 250 cows. He won $1,525 in prizes.

Luke Feisst is the 2024 Bay of Plenty Dairy Trainee of the Year and won $7,375 in prizes and two merit awards.

The first-time entrant wanted to build his connections and benchmark his abilities while gauging his trajectory within the industry.

The 26-year-old is assistant manager on Doug Paul’s 114ha, 350-cow property at Te Puke.

“I also enjoy the social aspects and networking it allowed.”

Luke entered the industry as a farm assistant in 2021 and chose farming as his career path due to work events at the time.

“Social media was largely campaigning against farming in general, using poor examples of a minority of farmers,” he says. “This inspired me to be the change I wanted to see and adjust the perspective of farming.”

Prior to this, Luke had begun his own business as a wholesale supplier of foliage to the florist industry.

Luke believes advances in simple and efficient technology and horticulture variations allow farmers to preserve the land.

“I see myself fitting in by pursuing opportunities and hope to be a supportive and constructive member of the farming community.”

Runner-up in the Dairy Trainee category was Alana Fitzpatrick who won $2,625 in prizes.

The 21-year-old works as a farm assistant on David and Lesley Jensen’s 240ha, 700-cow property at Tauranga.

The second-time entrant says the Awards experience allowed her to meet lots of new people, build more confidence in herself and her abilities.

“I am quite excited to see where the use of new technology will take the NZ dairy industry,” says Alana.

“I would like to be able to use the new technology on the farm to see how it would make life easier and streamline the work I am doing.”

Third place in the Dairy Trainee category went to Lawrence Heurea who is farm assistant on Stu and Alison Paton’s 440ha, 1100-cow Galatea property.

The Bay of Plenty Dairy Industry Awards winners field day will be held on Wednesday 03 April at 79 Roydon Downs Road, Paengaroa, Te Puke 3189, S/N Fonterra 21496, where Share Farmers of the Year Sophia Clark and Aaron Mills are share milking. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, George King and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Luke Feisst. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at

Share Farmer Merit Awards:

  • DairyNZ – People and Culture Award Hayden and Chelsea Goodall
  • Ecolab Total Farm Hygiene Award Thomas Houston
  • Federated Farmers Leadership Award Hayden and Chelsea Goodall
  • Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award Hayden and Chelsea Goodall
  • LIC – Animal Wellbeing, Recording and Productivity Award Sophia Clark & Aaron Mills
  • Meridian Environmental Sustainability Award Sophia Clark & Aaron Mills
  • Ravensdown Sustainable Pasture Award Sophia Clark & Aaron Mills
  • BlackmanSpargo Rural Law Ltd Business Performance Award Sophia Clark & Aaron Mills

Dairy Manager Merit Awards:

  • DeLaval Livestock Management Award George King
  • Fonterra Dairy Management Award Lindsay Williams
  • King Farm Services Environmental Sustainability Award Harjot Singh
  • Perrin Ag Pasture & Feed Management Award Thomas Lundman
  • Whakatane District Council People & Leadership Award Lindsay Williams
  • CowManager Personal Planning & Financial Management Award George King
  • Pioneer Brand Products Emerging Talent Award Hamish Burgess

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:

  • DairyNZ Practical Skills Award Luke Feisst
  • FARMit Accountants Ltd Emerging Talent Award Leanna Roebuck
  • I.S Dam Lining Farming Knowledge Award Luke Feisst
  • Vetora Bay of Plenty Communication & Industry Involvement Award Lawrence Heurea

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