Southern farmers do region proud in dairy awards

Phillip Colombus, of Oxford,  placed third in the 2014 New Zealand Dairy Industry awards' New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year competition, and also won the Fonterra Best Practice and Primary ITO Human Resource Management merit 
awards. The awards and 25th anniversary ball were held in Auckland on May 9. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara
Phillip Colombus, of Oxford, placed third in the 2014 New Zealand Dairy Industry awards' New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year competition, and also won the Fonterra Best Practice and Primary ITO Human Resource Management merit awards. The awards and 25th anniversary ball were held in Auckland on May 9. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara

Equity farmers Kevin and Sara O'Neill did Culverden proud during the 2014 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards when they placed second in the country's premier dairy competition, the Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year awards, last Friday night.

The couple oversee an 1190-cow herd on a 340ha farm in North Canterbury and won $18,000 in prizes.

Phillip Colombus, a farm manager from Oxford, placed third in the 2014 New Zealand Farm Manager of the Year competition, and also won the Fonterra Best Practice and Primary ITO Human Resource Management merit awards. He also won $8000 in prizes.

Charlie and Jody McCaig, of Hawera, won the Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year category and Duncan and Kim Fraser, of Halcombe, were third.

The overall farm manager winner was Nick Bertram, of Featherston, with Simon Player, of Kerepehi, second.

Mr Colombus works for Ngai Tahu Farming on a 350ha effective, 1300-cow property.

He said he did not think he was ''in with a chance'' prior to the awards and enjoyed his time in Auckland.

''Anything was a bonus in that competition.''

Apart from his success, he said one of the key highlights was '' just being in a room with so many talented dairy farmers''.

''There are so many variables, as the other regions are different, all the farms' sizes are different, and all the stuff we deal with are different.''

He said being able to network and meet other dairying people was the main reason he entered the competition. The national awards and anniversary ball were held at Auckland's Sky City Hotel on Friday night.

Mr O'Neill said they enjoyed their time in Auckland.

''It was a bit of a roller coaster,'' he said.

''We did not get any merit awards and we thought we were out of the running, so to get second was a really pleasant surprise.

''We felt very humble to be there among the winners.''

He said the McCaigs had done a great job.

''Full credit to them for what they have achieved and good luck to them in their ventures.''

They and the other contestants were ''wined and dined'' by sponsors.

''It was really good to meet the other entrants and to network with them.''

He said they enjoyed the opportunity to ''compare battle stories'' and talk to the other competitors about their strengths and difficulties and how they dealt with them.

Mr O'Neill paid tribute to wife Sara.

''The awards dinner was the culmination of six months of hard work and the lion's share has been done by Sara.''

He said fellow equity partners James and Belinda McCone, of Waiau, as well as their parents and other family and friends, had also attended the awards event to support them.

''We have only been in the industry for two years and want to thank everyone who supported us, from the guys on the farm to those off-farm.

''We really appreciate it.''

Southland also had a good evening with Josh Lavender, of Lochiel, placing second in the New Zealand Dairy Trainee of the Year competition and Southland/Otago Farm Manager of the Year Jared Crawford, of Riverton, winning the Meridian Energy Leadership merit award.

The category winner was 24-year-old Ruth Hone, of Taupo, who was the first woman to win the title in the history of the competition. More than 650 people attended the national awards dinner and ball, with tickets selling out in one day earlier in the year.

The Art Deco-themed ball was held to celebrate 25 years of the national Sharemilker of the Year competition and many of the past winners attended.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy spoke about the event, talking of the enormous impact that the dairy industry had on the New Zealand economy, and said it ''contributed $2 million an hour''.

Southern Rural Life reporter Yvonne O'Hara attended the event as a guest of the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Trust.