Passion pays off: Ash-Leigh builds big future in dairy industry

Ash-Leigh Campbell, of Halswell, was named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year for 2020 last week....
Ash-Leigh Campbell, of Halswell, was named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year for 2020 last week. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Lincoln University graduate and Halswell resident Ash-Leigh Campbell has been named Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year. She speaks about the achievement and what it's like to manage 8000 cows.

How did it feel to win the award?
When I first found out, I was shocked and I even cried a little. I’m just absolutely filled with gratitude, this is my job day in, day out, and I love what I do. So to be recognised for such a prestigious award blows my mind a little bit.

Tell me about your role as technical farm manager at Ngāi Tahu Farming?
I’ve been with Ngāi Tahu for about three-and-a-half years now, but I’ve been in this role for two years. I work alongside our farm managers and I help them with sustainability, audit and compliance; ensuring they understand the technology that we’ve got on our farms. This also includes a lot of analytical and project work. It’s a really awesome job because I get the best of both worlds as I can be out on the farm for three to four days a week or working from my desk for a couple of days. If it’s a nice, sunny day then I make sure to be out on the farm but when it’s a little bit cold I can hide behind my desk for the day.

Has farming always been something you wanted to do?
I kind of stumbled into the dairy industry milking cows a few times a week during high school, I didn’t really think much of it at the time. I think I wanted to be an air hostess when I was younger. It was quite funny, a lot of my girl mates ended up being nurses and teachers but I was the only one that was really outdoors and working in the environment. The year after high school I went to university but I also found that wasn’t really for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after that, but I knew how to milk cows so I decided to go into dairy farming full-time. At that point in time, I had no suspicion whatsoever that you can make a career and become something amazing from that. From then it just snowballed really as there are so many opportunities in the dairy industry and organisations such as the Dairy Women’s Network, and Fonterra, that can provide career progression. I’ve been in this industry for 10 years now and I’ve held various roles – it just shows that there are heaps of opportunities if you want to take them up.

What do you love about your job?
I feel really privileged to work for Ngāi Tahu Farming. Obviously being an iwi-owned company here in the South Island, they’ve put a really unique lens across farming; a really holistic approach. A lot of businesses do what they do for financial drivers but Ngāi Tahu takes a wider view on that. It’s not just the financial side of things, it’s what we’re doing with the environment or what are we doing to look after our people and grow their capabilities. I guess the silver lining to all of that is they wrap their Ngāi Tahu values around it, and it makes you feel like you’re a part of the business. I love what I do, it still doesn’t feel like a job to me. You’ve got to enjoy what you do, otherwise, what’s the point?

Can you tell me about how you re-connected with your iwi?
I had a passion for the agriculture sector but I made the decision at 24 to return to Lincoln University and this time, actually study something that I wanted to be there for. That’s when an opportunity came up through a programme called Whenua Kura; an organisation that gets young Maori into jobs across the primary sector. I was a recipient of their scholarship and it connected me with my Ngāi Tahu whakapapa. I grew up knowing I was of Ngāi Tahu descent but it was an awesome opportunity to have that time set aside to understand my whakapapa and where I’m from. It snowballed from then as well because that’s how job opportunities came up with Ngāi Tahu Farming. It’s been a journey of not only self-discovery but a journey of connecting to that side of my heritage.

Where do you live?
I am in Halswell but I grew up just outside of Lincoln on a small lifestyle property. I’m not from a traditional farming background.

Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
I’m the eldest of two children, we live pretty close to each other. My younger brother is a gas plumber and my parents have just moved into Lincoln.

Any hobbies or interests outside of farming?
A lot of my spare time is taken up being a member and chair of the New Zealand Young Farmers organisation but we do a lot of social events there. I do love a bit of country music and always love an opportunity to head to a music festival. I also love getting out and enjoying our backyard, whether it’s enjoying the sun or going for a hike in our hills and mountains. During summer, I enjoy a bit of water sports as well.

What are your goals for the future in your chosen industry?
The dairy industry has got me for life – I love this industry and I don’t see myself doing anything else. My goals for the next 12 months are to be an ambassador for the Dairy Women’s Network and for Fonterra, but that’s going to look a bit local at the moment due to the restrictions of Covid-19. I really hope that in a few months time I can get out there, move around the country and attend events more as well to connect with others. I’d also really like the opportunity to inspire young and intelligent people to join our sector.

Ash-Leigh Campbell. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Ash-Leigh Campbell. Photo: Geoff Sloan








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