A passion for the farming industry, a strong desire to provide an enjoyable and safe working environment, and a commitment to making community connections, teamed with a good sense of humour, sums up the approach Marc and Nia Jones have to their life.
The dynamic Welsh couple are runners-up in 2019’s Share Farmer of the Year competition at the Dairy Industry Awards, which they qualified for after winning Waikato Share Farmer of the Year plus three merit awards.
The couple impressed judges with their focus on developing their team’s personal and professional goals. “They had this word ‘AgriCULTURE’ – they create and live a high-performing culture, developing and caring for people, the land, the environment. They don’t just say the word, they live it. People are a real focus of their business, they truly care.”
Marc fell in love with dairying on his OE in 2010 while working for the late Ian Elliot and wife Margaret on their 270ha, 970-cow Tokoroa property. Today the Jones contract-milk on the same property, which hosted the Waikato DIA Winners’’ field day in April.
Margaret’s daughter Sarah sharemilks, and Marc and Nia initially managed the farm for a year.
Both were born and raised in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. Marc left school at 16 and went to Agricultural College for two years. Although born on a farm, Nia completed a Bsc Hons in Sports and Physical Education at university.
Marc, 33, travelled to NZ in 2009, while Nia, 29, travelled Aotearoa in 2011 and also fell in love with the country.
The married couple came to NZ in 2016, working in Southland, before taking up the offer to return to Kennedy Farms in 2017. They have one daughter and another child on the way.
The System 5, 270ha farm, including 35ha of leased dairy platform, is on Otorohanga Allophanic and Makiekie Pumice soils. The pasture is predominantly rye grass and clover, with addition of plantain. “Visual pasture assessments are carried out weekly, and we carry out 41 full farm walks a year,” says Marc.
Imported supplements include PKE, DDG and Tapioca, which is fed in-shed. Grass silage is grown on the run-off, and hay is brought in. Plus 16ha of maize is grown on the platform, and 2ha of swedes to help transition 400 dried-off cows heading to the run-off for 80 days during winter.
The 970 cows are milked in a 60-bail rotary using automatic cup removers and Protrack monitoring. Reducing cow numbers from 1050, and a stocking rate from 3.9 cows/ha to 3.6 cows/ha, has resulted in a similar kgMS/ha of 1593, a higher kgMS/cow with 443 compared to around 400, and a drop in empty rates from 17 to 12 per cent.
And a switch has been made during two seasons from split calving to 100 per cent spring calving in 2018/2019. The farm uses all AB for 12 weeks from October 8, breeding 90 per cent Friesians and 10 per cent crossbreed, also aiming towards all A2 genetics.
“For us, spring calving offers more discipline around reproduction, but it’s been a big learning curve transitioning,” says Marc.
The couple also won the Dairy NZ Human Resources Award – with the judges “blown away” by their commitment to looking after their team. The team consists of Marc, three full-time staff, and Nia completes admin, financials, team meetings, rears calves, is mum to 18-month-old Etta, and fills in as required.
“We strive towards the Maslow hierarchy of needs for us and our staff,” says Marc. “We also have open communication and a great relationship with Margaret and Sarah,” says Nia.
Since coming to NZ, Nia and Marc have thrown themselves into the community and dairy scene. The judges were “mystified as to how they manage to pack so much into their days”. The Jones have started a local progression group, utilise local community networks and have groups on-farm for demonstrations and activities – winning them the Federated Farmers Leadership Award.
The couple also netted the Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award. “We have weekly team meetings where health and safety around what’s happening that week is a key agenda item,” says Marc.
He’s created Standard Operating Procedures for the farm so all staff have something to refer back to with confidence after training. “We have a WhatsApp group chat set up to keep the team informed and updated about new hazards, or anything we all need to know.
“We also use it for more lighthearted messages, which helps foster that team atmosphere,” says Marc. And the farm hazard map clearly shows no-go zones for health, safety and biosecurity.
With the Jones’ second baby due this month Nia will be “conveniently” away from calving. But a good family life/work balance is important to them. They want to live comfortably but are investing in building equity towards buying a farm.