Event more of a 'celebration' than a 'competition'

The Southland-Otago competitors in the 2014 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards competition were ''treated like royalty'' during the days leading up to the formal evening dinner and 25th anniversary ball, says Tracy Henderson, of Winton.

Tracy and her husband Steve represented the region as the sharemilker/equity farmer of the year contestants at the awards, which were held at the Sky City Hotel, Auckland on Auckland 9.

The region's farm manager of the year, Jared and wife Sara Crawford, and dairy trainee of the year, Josh Lavender, of Lochiel, and fiancee Chantelle Ross, also attended, along with a large contingent of supporters from Southland.

''[The whole experience] was amazing,'' Mrs Henderson said.

''We were wined and dined by Meridian Energy, Fonterra, PrimaryITO and Westpac, and we went to Fonterra's offices.''

Although she and Mr Henderson were unplaced in their category she won a gold medal in the ''Amazing Race'', a trip around Auckland, solving clues as they went.

Mr Lavender was pleased with his second placing in the dairy trainee section, while Mr Crawford won the Meridian Energy Leadership merit award.

Mr Lavender, who took part in a study tour around the Waikato, said the awards evening was fantastic and a great celebration of the New Zealand dairy industry.

''All the winners were thoroughly deserving,'' Mr Lavender said.

He said the opportunity to network with the other top performers from around the country and to hear how they got to where they were, was ''hugely inspirational and encouraging to people like us''.

The judges said of Mr Lavender ''Josh has been a standout his whole life and has very strong goal setting.

''He is going to succeed in whatever he does.''

The trainee 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.

''We are the future leaders,'' Ms Hone said during her acceptance speech.

Cameron Luxton, of Galatea, Bay of Plenty, was third. Nick Bertram, of Featherston, won the farm manager competition. Simon Player, of Kerepehi, was second and Phillip Colombus, of Oxford, third.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Bertram said the awards ''had not felt like a competition, but felt like a celebration''.

Charlie and Jody McCaig, of Hawera, won the sharemilker/equity farmer of the year category.

They said they were delighted to take the 25th title home to Taranaki, back to where the competition had started.

He paid tribute to his wife.

''You ladies are the unsung heroes [of the industry]'', Mr McCaig said.

Kevin and Sara O'Neill, of Waiau, were runners-up and Duncan and Kim Fraser, of Halcombe, were third.

The awards had a prize pool of $180,000.

More than 650 people attended the national awards dinner and ball. Tickets sold out in one day earlier in the year.

In addition to the awards dinner, 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.

In addition to a magician and a singer, a band kept those attending dancing to about midnight, and then many moved to another bar in the hotel. Some made it back to their rooms in time for breakfast and to catch their flights.

- by Yvonne O'Hara