Geoff and Katrina Taylor at home on their North Otago dairy
farm. Photo by Sally Rae.
At Willowview Pastures in North Otago, staff are
considered an integral part of the business.
Owners Geoff and Katrina Taylor run the dairy farm on the
lower Waitaki Plains near Waitaki Bridge.
Employees were given responsibility for particular on-farm
tasks, described by Mr Taylor as their on-farm ''niche'', but
still kept up with what was happening farm-wide.
Regular meetings were scheduled, providing an opportunity to
outline objectives, keep up to date with overall farm
production and raise any issues. Formal training was also a
critical part of the strategy.
''It's very important to keep everybody involved in the
business rather than being employer-employee,'' he said.
Mr Taylor, who has high expectations of his staff, believes
communication is ''incredibly important''. He said the
regular meetings worked well and meant ''everyone's on the
same page''. He considers himself a hands-on employer,
preferring to be one of the team.
In 2012, staff member Zach Graham was named the most
outstanding modern apprentice at the South Canterbury-North
Otago regional AgriAwards, run by Primary Industry Training
Organisation (Primary ITO), while Mr Taylor, nominated by Mr
Graham, was selected as regional farmer trainer of the year.
Such training opportunities were not available to Mr Taylor
when he started out in the dairy industry more than 20 years
His parents, Mark and Diana, bought the 240ha property about
40 years ago, after emigrating from England.
Mark Taylor worked two jobs, including at the local freezing
works, to be able to afford the coastal property and farm
After leaving school, Geoff Taylor worked for farmer and
fisherman Bill Pile on a fishing boat before heading to
England for two years. He worked as a shearer and experienced
Although he was always interested in farming, the late 1980s
had been ''pretty tough going'' and the decision was made to
sell the sheep to buy 160 dairy cows. The property was
converted in 1992 and it now runs 670 Friesian and crossbred
The farm was initially split in half and Geoff and his
brother Andy shared one cowshed, milking their respective
They were in partnership for about six years before Andy
headed south. He and his family were now dairy farming at
Geoff Taylor acknowledged converting to dairy was a ''big
call'' for a family that previously knew nothing about it.
But his father had also shown ''great insight'' with the
decision, which allowed two sons to stay on the land.
During his early years in dairying, Geoff Taylor received
much helpful advice from other farmers and that sort of
collegial support was still prevalent in the dairy industry,
The open nature of the industry was one of the first things
he noticed - ''everybody told you exactly what the story
was'' - and was one of its strengths, compared with the sheep
industry, he said.
Mr Taylor, who has no formal qualifications, believed the
industry could do a lot more work in supporting schools,
promoting farming and letting young people know there were
Not everybody had to go to university to do well, he said.
His farming background meant the ''common sense stuff'' was
second nature. Staff training was part of the Taylors'
commitment to the dairy industry: it enabled staff to perform
their tasks competently and with a high level of
''There's no doubt about it, training works, from a practical
point of view as well as from the theory side.
''The good thing about ITO is that [trainees] learn about
things in class and so are able to ask questions on-farm and
able to understand why we do what we do. It's fantastic what
''I thoroughly enjoy it when young people, well, they don't
have to be young, get more knowledge and better themselves.
If I can't do something to improve their future, I'm not
doing what I should be doing.''
Mr Graham (21) is now in his third season working for
Willowview Pastures. Although he studied agriculture at
school, he had not previously been on a farm.
However, he was looking for work, decided to ''give it a
crack'' and has been working for the Taylors ever since,
while continuing his ITO studies.
Two other permanent staff make up the regular farm team and
have been working with Mr Taylor for 15 and six years
respectively. Both this season and last season, Lincoln
University students worked on the farm over summer.
The good part about have a stable team was being able to
learn everyone's strengths, Mr Taylor said. Obviously, he
wanted to retain staff, but if they did move on, he hoped
they had bettered themselves for that next job.
Mr Taylor believed in helping others.
''Somebody might help you; you may never ever be able to
repay that person but somewhere down the track you can help
somebody else,'' he said.
He was very excited about the future of the dairy industry,
which he said had ''a lot going for it''. Viewed in
hindsight, the development work done on the property had been
''When Dad first came here, there was one building on this
land and no irrigation,'' Mr Taylor recalled.
Mark Taylor had to dig a hole with a front-end-loader to find
water for the sheep. Now, there was ''water all over the
plains'', Geoff said.
Latterly, the Taylors had moved away from border-dyke
irrigation, which Mark Taylor installed, to pivots, and new
cow sheds would be considered in the future.
Technology was becoming more important in the industry and
staff were going to have to be more technically minded, he
The environment was a big focus and trees cut down to make
way for pivots had been replaced with extensive planting.
''We're very interested in the environmental side of things
and making sure we're doing the utmost we can, as well as
making money,'' Mr Taylor said.
''At the end of the day, anybody who is farming is only a
caretaker of the land for the next generation.''
The couple had three teenage children and, ''fingers
crossed'', there would be another generation of the family
involved in the agricultural sector, he said.