Dairy farmer shares her knowledge in Sri Lanka

Kelso dairy farmer and dairy adviser Marloes Levelink's background in tropical agriculture proved useful when she was chosen to be part of Fonterra's farmer volunteer scheme.

Earlier this year she flew to Sri Lanka to provide training and advice to Fonterra's supplier relationship officers for three weeks as part of its Dairy Development programme.

The programme supports the growth of sustainable dairy industries in key markets where Fonterra operates, including Sri Lanka, by sharing its expertise and working together with local farmers, governments and industry players.

Originally from Holland, Ms Levelink and partner Jonathan Verkerk have been dairying in New Zealand for about 15 years.

They and their two children have a 183ha block, live on another 55ha block, and milk 400 Friesians, producing about 500kg of milk solids per cow this season.

The property is completely self-contained for feed, growing whole crop, grain and grass.

They also grazed their yearlings on-farm

Theirs was one of the first dairy farms in the region to build a free-stall wintering barn to house their cows, which they did for the 2008 season.

''We milk year-round, with a small group of cows calving in autumn and the majority in the spring,'' Ms Levelink said.

''On our farm about 10% of total milk supplied is winter milk.

''Part of this gets processed into mozzarella in Canterbury.''

However, as of June 1, they will have sold their farm and stocks, but will remain in Kelso.

Ms Levelink also has a consultancy business and works for DairyNZ, providing resources and training. She studied tropical agriculture in Holland and has worked in several countries as an adviser and consultant.

''During the past 20 years I have worked with farmers all over the world, including Indonesia and Africa,'' she said.

Her experience stood her in good stead when she was one of four Fonterra suppliers accepted for the Farmer Volunteer programme.

''The reason why I applied is I feel the world is a bigger place than just our own farm or just New Zealand,'' she said.

''I believe it is our responsibility to look after stock well and look out for people.''

During her three weeks in Sri Lanka, she ran workshops for Fonterra's supplier relationship officers and some of the farmers on the company's new 25-cow demonstration farm in Pannala, near Colombo, to enable them to pass on their knowledge to their suppliers.

''Sri Lanka is only an island and New Zealand is about four times bigger.

''However, there are 20 million people there.''

She said many Sri Lankan dairy farmers might have two or three cows, with each cow milking maybe five to eight litres a day, and they would also have an outside job.

Their milk would be used for family and neighbours and some would be sent to Fonterra.

Larger scale farmers were likely to have five to 15 cows, which were their core business.

''The Fonterra farmers predominantly have dairy as additional/secondary income.

''The level of income after farm costs for a family who have dairy as their sole income would be $200 to $300 a month.

''They supply Fonterra, which might receive about 20,000 litres a day from all its suppliers.

''To compare, our farm [at Kelso], at the time I was in Sri Lanka, was supplying, by itself, 8000 litres a day.''

In two of the three provinces, the cows are Sahiwal, a tropical breed, crossed with Jerseys

Friesians are mainly used in the the cooler, higher altitude third province.

''The crossbreeds have good production, with high milking solids, are heat tolerant and less susceptible to heat stress,'' she said.


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