Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Making the most of farming in a ‘land of opportunity’

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The abundance of opportunities New Zealand dairy farming affords is a great reason for a young Canadian to stay.
Canadian Lisa Peeters is managing a 240ha farm milking 430 cows at Hokotiki on the West Coast.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

A photo of a blanket of snow from her mum in Canada was more than enough to help a West Coast farmer get over any lingering feeling of homesickness. And even the weekly rainfall on the West Coast, which can be higher than an entire year’s worth of rain in Brooks, Alberta, isn’t enough to send her scurrying home to Canada.

Despite the weather, Lisa Peeters is not planning to return to Canada anytime soon.

“My dad was here recently and we had a few wet days and he couldn’t believe we were still able to drive around the paddocks in a two-wheel-drive ute, whereas back home he wouldn’t have been able to get a tractor in because we have such heavy clay soil,” Peeters says.

“But everything is just so different here, the climate and how dairy farms operate and the opportunities in the dairy industry.”

Her parents were involved in dairying on a family farm when she was younger but it was sold when she was 16 after the family members decided to go their separate ways. And in Canada, it is really hard to get opportunities in dairying unless you come from a family farm, she says.

Leaving school, she worked with sheep and beef before training as a vet nurse, but always kept farming in the back of her mind. Feeling a bit burnt out after a couple of years with an equine vet practice, she promised herself she would travel if she chucked the job in. 

Lisa takes a week off every few months to explore New Zealand and has covered the South Island and a bit of the North Island. Lisa and her trusty dog explore the rugged hills in the South Island.

An exchange programme led her to New Zealand, where she had hoped to get a role on a sheep farm. When the programme offered her a three-month role on a Mawhera Incorporation dairy farm, Peeters figured it was not a big commitment if she ended up hating it, so she gave it a crack.

She was placed with sharemilkers Mark and Debbie van Beek, but covid hit not long after she arrived so she had to decide whether to go home to Canada or stay. Another worker left around the same time and the Van Beeks offered her an opportunity to stay longer. It became an easy choice.

“I was already enjoying New Zealand a lot and I could already see the opportunities in dairy here.

“And I love the people and the culture so it wasn’t a hard decision.”

They are milking 430 cows that are a three-way cross of Jersey, Ayrshire and Friesian. The farm is 240 effective hectares and there is a 60ha support block for the young stock. There are three working on the farm full time, including Mark and a part-timer who helps out when needed. They also get a calf-rearer to help with calving.

Dairying in NZ is a lot different to what she grew up with. When she first arrived it blew her away when she heard that all cows would be dry at the same time.

“Back home we milked 365 days of the year, with cows calving, being mated and being dried off happening every week, but I’m loving the seasonal system here.”

In the early days, she felt isolated living on the West Coast. She did not have a car for the first 18 months but once the country got moving again post-lockdowns, and she brought her dog over from Canada, she wanted a bit of freedom. 

She takes one week off every three months and uses that time to explore the country. She has covered all of the South Island and done some venturing into the North.

Lisa felt isolated when she first arrived as covid lockdowns happened not long after, but she has since been getting out and meeting people and helped resurrect the West Coast New Zealand Young Farmers club.

She entered the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards last year and won the Trainee of the Year category for the West Coast/Top of the South region. 

“It was such a cool experience, I learnt so much and met some incredible people,” she says.

“That was a big reason why I entered, so I could meet more people my own age, as well as test my knowledge.”

And this year she entered the manager category and won the Emerging Talent award.

Another way she has met people has been through reinvigorating the West Coast New Zealand Young Farmers club. It had folded not long before she arrived but the enthusiasm from her and a few others has got it back off the ground and they have developed a strong membership base.

“We need things like Young Farmers over here, the region is so spread out and we need things to get us off the farm and connecting with others.

“It’s great to relate to similar challenges other farmers are having too and know you’re not alone when things are tough.”

She has completed her Level 5 Dairy Production Diploma with Primary ITO and is going to start her Level 6 next year. Long-term, she is keen to own her own cows one day but maybe not on her own.

“I’d love to meet someone who is as passionate about cows and dairy farming as me and go sharemilking together, but I am not sure I want to do it on my own.”

She has a residency visa and in two years can apply to stay in the country permanently. She has kept her vet nursing registration active back in Canada just in case she ever wants to use it again, but for now she is pretty comfortable living the Kiwi lifestyle.

“I can definitely see myself remaining in the dairy industry, to keep learning and keep my options open.

“I will never say no to a learning opportunity.”

More: Have a good farming story to tell, or know someone who does, why not write it yourself? Learn how here

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