Monday, April 22, 2024

A life and a career built on dairy

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Canty couple say the sector has given them everything – and they’re making a Co-operative Difference to it, too.
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Canterbury dairy farmers Kerry and Aimee Burt are proud to be at Te Tihi, the highest ranking under the Fonterra Co-operative Difference programme towards strengthening future dairy farming practices.

The young couple sharemilk over two properties in Canterbury, 580 cows on their 146 hectare home farm just out of Leeston, near Lincoln, and another 440 cows on a 129ha property at Lowcliffe, south of Ashburton.

They said if New Zealand didn’t have a strong dairy co-op like Fonterra they likely wouldn’t be dairy farmers.

“All the farms I have worked on have supplied Fonterra,” Kerry said.

“I have an enormous sense of pride in the co-op and what it stands for. 

“It sets the benchmark for our industry and I wouldn’t be farming if it wasn’t for Fonterra and what it means for NZ farmers and NZ as a whole. 

“Every time I see a tanker on the road or visit our local Farm Source store it brings a smile to my face.”

Said Aimee: “Kerry literally waves at every tanker driver on the road.”

Kerry grew up on a sheep and beef farm near Whakatane, but staying on wasn’t an option. 

“Dad said he couldn’t pay me enough and there wasn’t an option of farm succession. 

“He told me to do an automotive course to have a trade under my belt, even though I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do. He asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted to own a farm.”

Realising that dairying was the best pathway to achieve that goal, Kerry moved to the South Island in 2011 “with two pairs of gumboots, some overalls and a $5000 car”.

“I saw there was a true career path: if I put my head down and took in everything that I could, one day I will dig that fence post on my own land.”

Kerry started at the bottom rung, working as a farm assistant on a few different farms. 

During that time he met Aimee, who was studying at Otago. 

“During her uni holidays Aimee worked at a cafe where I used to buy my milk and lunch. It took me a bit to pluck up the courage to ask for her number so while buying my sixth bottle of milk for the week I finally asked her!”

A dairy farmer’s daughter, Aimee told everyone at age 15 that there was no way she would be a farmer and went on to gain a Bachelor in Fashion Design. 

“Then I realised I was doing the wrong thing and that I was actually pretty passionate about farming and it came naturally to me. 

“I love the life that comes with farming, the options, the growth it gives you and your family and the things we’ve learnt,” Aimee said.

The couple started contract milking on Aimee’s parents’ farm in Waimate, but the urge to progress remained and four years ago they moved into their sharemilking role on the Leeston farm.

One thing the couple highlights as crucial to their career in dairying is not being afraid to ask for help. 

“We have learnt a lot, but we never pretend that we know everything,” Kerry said.

“We have an awesome relationship with our sustainable dairying adviser, Sean Spencer. He’s like a mate to us and he’s always on hand if we have any questions or issues we need advice on.

“I think calling on that help is something some farmers could do more of. 

“Yes, compliance and regulation can be hard, but Fonterra has some excellent resources and people that can help ease that burden.

“We know that the requirements on us are for good reasons and Fonterra isn’t just putting things in place just to make our lives harder. 

“Whether you are a farmer or the CEO, we are all part of the same team and we all want the same thing. 

“It’s important that Fonterra is here to let us farmers do what we do best – make top quality milk and share it around the world.”

The couple strive to be in the top 5% of everything they do and the look of their farm is important to them and their team, who share the pride they have in the industry. 

“I really enjoy showing people that dairy farms aren’t just cow shit and mess.” 

Kerry and Aimee identify a work-life balance as a big aspect of their business, for themselves, their employees and their family.

“We want to be in a position to give all our children opportunities for their future. 

“Having the time to enjoy life outside of the farm and spend time with family and friends is really important to us.”

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