Working on weaknesses clinches title

The 2019 Central Plateau SFOTY Tom Bridgens.

A first-time entrant with a passion for dairy farming, the environment and animals, has won the 2019 Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year.

Tom Bridgens was announced as the region’s Share Farmer of the Year at the Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards’ annual dinner at the Energy Events Centre, Rotorua, last month.

Laurence Walden was named 2019 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year, and Harry Phipps the 2019 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Tom, aged 22, is contract milking 300 cows on Rex and Loris Bates’ Tokoroa 80ha property and won $15,480 in prizes and four merit awards.

He grew up in a dairy farming family, spending his spare time on the farm and began relief milking at age 13. Leaving school at 16, he worked as a farm assistant before going on his OE and returning to NZ in 2018 to contract milk.

Tom entered the awards to streamline his business and work on his weaknesses. “As it’s my first year in a manager’s role, I wanted to run my business the right way from the start.

“The awards are a great way to move forward in the dairy industry, to get my name out there and make my CV stand out for my next step.”

Future farming goals include sharemilking by 2020 and farm ownership within 10 years.

“I’ve had to overcome people telling me I am too young and inexperienced to take on a contract milking position,” says Tom.

He believes a strength of his business lies in communication. “The communication between myself and the farm owner is crucial to ensure every decision within the business will maximise profitability for both of us.”

And he loves everything about dairy farming. “I want my passion for farming to grow and to keep absorbing information and knowledge.”

Runners-up in this competition are Anthony and Danelle Kiff, who won $6880 in prizes and two merit awards. They are contract milkers on the Tauhara North No2 Trust 230ha property at Tokoroa, milking 600 cows. Anthony has entered the awards five times and was 2017’s Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year.

The couple say the people in their team and the ability to break down big problems into little pieces are their strengths. “Our support network is of high calibre and we’re able to bounce ideas off them and talk about any issues that may arise.”

Future farming goals for Anthony, 34, and Danelle, 30, include beginning a dairy academy on their farm for the trust, training 18-25-year-olds.

Third placegetters in this category are Bruce and Jo Husband, who are contract milkers on Bob and Bridget Hone’s 195ha, 600-cow Ngakuru property. They won $5130 in prizes and one merit award.

The Husbands find the defined career path of the dairy industry appealing, with rewards reflecting the effort put in. “We love the different jobs for different seasons, and that we can be home with our family for breakfast.”

Winner of 2019’s Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year title, Laurence Walden, was runner-up in 2010’s Dairy Trainee category. He won $9100 in prizes and two merit awards

He says benefits include becoming known within the industry as passionate about dairying farming, receiving feed-back on areas he could improve on and stepping outside his comfort zone.

“I never knew what career path I wanted. I was a bushman for seven years but the industry was quite unstable,” says Laurence. “A rugby mate was a dairy farmer and asked me to give him a hand. I thought: ‘Wow, this is pretty cool, I could do this’ – I haven’t looked back since.”

The 40-year-old is passionate about achieving high standards in the dairy industry. “I’m a proud husband and father to five kids – I like to think I lead by example.”

Studying towards a Diploma of Agribusiness Management, the farm manager for the Tauhara Farms Ltd Partnership 365ha, 1040-cow farm at Taupo is in his third season and is proud of his career progression. “I’m lucky to work for Tauhara Farms, they always provide the resources to achieve high results, such as good machinery and technology.”

“Next season I’ve been offered the opportunity to run both dairy farms on the Tauhara Farms Limited partnership. This is a big challenge that I’m really excited about.”

Kinleith farm manager Chance Church, aged 31, placed second and won $4120 in prizes. Chance works on Richard Maxwell’s 378ha farm, milking 1250 cows.

He enjoys spending time with his wife Rachael, aged 31, and their five children ranging in age from two to 15. “My wife and I have worked hard to get where we are, we enjoy the challenge and are always looking for new ways to improve.”

Third place in this category is Bevan Samuel. The 50-year-old is farm manager on Pamu Landcorp Farming’s 334ha Reporoa property, milking 820 cows. 

The benefits of dairy farming outweigh the challenges for Bevan, who says he’s seen his fair share of droughts, long wet periods and financial trials. “They all build resilience and perseverance.”

The 2019 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year, Harry Phipps hoped to better himself and continue to grow by entering. The 20-year-old is herd manager for Gary and Kathy O’Donnell milking 400 cows on the 140ha Rotorua farm. He won $5770 in prizes and two merit awards.

Harry chose farming as a career initially just to be employed. “Then I saw the clear career pathways within the industry and the opportunities dairy farming offered to people who were motivated and wanted to be the best they could be.”

Studying towards his Level 4 PrimaryITO Dairy Farming, he’s been offered a herd manager role.

Runner-up is Claire Douglas, who is 2IC on the Theland Farm Group’s 320ha, 860-cow farm in Rotorua. She won $2220 in prizes. Third place went to assistant dairy production manager Bronte Marquet, aged 24, who won $1520 in prizes and one merit award. She works for Pamu Farms on the 340ha, 900-cow farm in Reporoa.

The Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards winners’ field day is on April 10 at 168 Matarawa Road, RD1, Tokoroa, where Share Farmers of the Year, Tom Bridgens, contract milks. More details are at


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