Leading farmers into a sustainable future

Ollie Knowles is DairyNZ's new Regional Leader Southland. Photo: DairyNZ
Ollie Knowles is DairyNZ's new Regional Leader Southland. Photo: DairyNZ
Southern Rural Life asks Ollie Knowles, who is DairyNZ’s new Regional Leader Southland, some Leading Questions.

Q Tell us a little about your background?

I grew up in Auckland.

Throughout high school I spent most school holidays on a large sheep farm in Taranaki.

I completed a bachelor of agricultural science at Lincoln.

In my honours year I investigated the use of treated sewage and biochar (a form of charcoal) to understand if biochar can reduce the loss of nutrients from applied sewage.

While studying, I also spent 18 weeks working on a dairy farm at the top of the South Island.

I previously worked for Ballance Agri-Nutrients, where I was in their sales team and then in a science extension role.

While in the extension role I supported the development of new products and services, trained staff, facilitated farmer events on nutrient management and worked on Ballance's strategy development.

I belong to Grasslands, Ballance Farm Environment Awards and I am on the board of LandWISE. They are an organisation based in Hawke's Bay, which promotes sustainable production.

They are looking at similar issues to those dairy farmers are working on around continuing to improve soil and land management, freshwater quality and address greenhouse gas emissions.

I recently moved to Invercargill with my wife Charlie and our seven-month-old daughter.

I enjoy getting into the great outdoors and in Southland there is so much to do from walking and skiing to diving in the ocean.

Q What does your role as regional leader involve?

I will be leading and supporting our team of consulting officers who facilitate the discussion groups throughout Southland and South Otago and work alongside farmers to help them achieve best practice. I will also be working to develop the networks our team has in Southland and South Otago to ensure we have really good relationships with people the dairy sector work with.

This includes rural professionals, councils, Great South (the Southland Regional Development Agency and the Regional Tourism Organisation for Southland), researchers, scientists and demonstration farms.

One of my passions is to see the primary industries be sustainable into the future.

People are key to the prosperity of the dairy sector.

I would love to be involved with school students in the future and help them learn more about dairy and the opportunities we can offer.

Q Why did you put your hand up for the role?

I like what DairyNZ have achieved. I feel, with the issues facing the sector in the future, I have some skills which will help prepare the sector for success and long-term sustainability.

Q What do you see as the most significant challenges in the job and what do you expect the highlights or benefits to be?

Farming is based on long-term cycles and the changes on farm are not seen overnight.

Trying to show the benefit of a change and see it adopted as a habit takes time, commitment and a lot of energy.

I think this is one of the biggest challenges in the sector, which is why we need consulting officers in the field to help farmers identify areas to work on and then find a practical solution.

Q What achievements generally are you most proud of either in your professional career or personal sphere?

I am lucky to have found a role, which I love showing up for every day and where I feel I am making a genuine contribution for the betterment of New Zealand and the wider world.

Our farmers produce a highly sought after product for consumers with the least impact on the environment of any country.

Personally, I am happy to have a partner who loves enjoying life with me, and our little one.

I also enjoy sporting and outdoor activities.

My wife and I completed the two day Coast to Coast event last year and we will be looking at our next big challenge soon.

Q What goals do you still have?

As I am from a city background, I would love to see New Zealanders improve their knowledge of where their food comes from and how it is produced.

I would love to be involved in educating younger people on this issue and will be looking for ways to do this in my role.

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