Thursday, December 7, 2023

Mum, teacher, farmer, winner

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Taranaki dairy farmer Trish Rankin was a self-acclaimed townie having never been on a farm until her husband decided to go dairy farming. Now the passionate environmentalist has been crowned Dairy Woman of the Year. She talked to Annette Scott.
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Dairy farmer, passionate environmentalist and part-time teacher Trish Rankin has taken out the prestigious Dairy Woman of the Year 2019 title.

The Taranaki mum headed off the field of four finalists at the Dairy Woman’s Network conference in Christchurch last week.

Rankin balances full-time farming with her husband Glen and their four boys with teaching part time at Opunake Primary School.

Her passion for the environment and leaving the land a better place for her boys and future generations has led to her involvement in a multitude of environmental roles.

And it’s the support in those roles of her family and community that allows her to follow her passion as an environmentalist while still farming and teaching.

“I was born in Christchurch. My father was a policeman and in the army. We ended up in Greymouth and I went teaching as my career.

“I was a townie through and through but now I couldn’t think of anything but being a farmer.”

Rankin met Glen in Greymouth when he was working for AgriQuality after finishing a Taratahi dairy farming course.

In 2001 he decided to go dairy farming and moved to Canterbury where he was herd manager on an 800-cow farm.

Rankin took a job teaching in Ashburton.

“I had never been on a farm until Glen decided to go farming and while I stayed teaching full time I did take on the accounts, administration and human resources role in the background.”

But five years ago the couple made the decision to knuckle into their dream of farm ownership.

“We had just had our fourth son. We were frantically busy but still not getting ahead so we decided to look for a sharemilking position.”

By 2016 the couple, following milking stints in Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay, were successfully sharemilking in Northland and took out the region’s 2016 Sharemilker of the Year title.

It was only five years ago Rankin learnt her farming skills.

“I had given away the full-time teaching to become a full-time farm assistant, pooling our skills and focus to drive our farm business.

“I learnt to milk, drive tractors, feed stock, do fences as well as sort health and safety and human resources out.”

The most challenging part of becoming a farmer was learning to drive a tractor.

“Nothing was easy.

“It was more what wasn’t a challenge as I didn’t have a mechanical mind or much animal sense but learning to drive a 180hp tractor pulling a slurry tanker was up there.

“If it wasn’t for my husband being so patient I wouldn’t be doing it at all.”

Northland also triggered her passion for the environment and her wider involvement in the dairy industry.

An active Dairy Enviro Leader (DEL) and member of the DEL network Rankin is also chairwoman of the Taranaki DEL group. 

Her involvement with DEL started in 2015 with their move to Northland.

“It was a complete change of farming for us on hill country. I didn’t know anything about the land and how to farm it so I went to DairyNZ to seek advice and it was through DEL that I got support.

“That’s what’s so good about the dairy industry – anything you need help or advice with, there’s always support.”

Rankin was a force behind establishing DEL in Taranaki.

“It’s a really cool support network if you want to do better on farm. 

“Once you get caught up in it you get hooked on its valuable information and the amazing group of people.”

A passionate environmentalist Rankin is working through the Kellogg Leadership Programme with her research project focused on waste minimisation on farms based on how a circular economy model can be developed on a NZ dairy farm.

“Farmers want to do better and the circular model of non-biological waste is quite big overseas. It’s more than recycle, it’s about redesigning so it doesn’t create waste.

“On our farm we are buying products with the agri-recovery logo. It starts with purchasing decisions. Everybody wants product much better packaged to have less waste and that goes up the line to the manufacturer but we all have to work on it together.

“The Sustainable Business Network is doing a lot of good work for circular economy.”

In 2018 Rankin was elected to the national executive of the NZ Dairy Awards and last year was also selected as a NZ climate change ambassador as part of the Dairy Action for Climate Change. 

“I didn’t know anything about climate change and so I needed to find out to help me on my farm and in my community.”

As an industry ambassador the role is about being the farmers’ voice to keep farmers’ views forefront in conversations with policy makers.  

She still works part-time teaching in terms one, two and four but term three is full time farming.

“I do 0.8 teaching four days a week and relief milk Friday and Saturday but term three is calves full time for me.”

The Rankins are entering their third season as 45:55 sharemilkers on a 150ha Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW) farm milking 460 cows in South Taranaki.

“PKW have kaitiakitanga which is guardianship of the land and whanaungatanga, the importance of whanau/family.” 

That is key to driving Rankin’s passion for the environment and her willingness to go beyond and make the dairy industry a better place for all and future generations.

“Taranaki is unique, such an amazing place with an amazingly supportive community. We have never experienced such a sense of community and that’s why I can do all that I do.

“It’s just a text to get help and support and we do it for each other – with three kids in three different rugby teams in three different towns I couldn’t do it without family and community support.

“Being involved in a lot, you get to know a lot of people and the more support there is around you. We have just got to juggle.”

DWN trustee and judge Alison Gibb said the judges were impressed with Rankin’s self-awareness, her preparedness to grow and focus her make-it-happen attitude to problem-solving environmental issues. 

Rankin received a scholarship prize of $20,000 to do a professional business development programme, sponsored by Fonterra.

“I have a bit of planning to do to make sure I make the best of this opportunity. 

“It will be a chance to catapult some things I want to do but I want to take the time to plan the right thing,” she said.

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