Boy from Punjab overcomes odds
The learning curve for Northland’s 2017 Dairy Manager of the Year runner-up, Balkaren (Bal) Sran, has been steep and challenging.
When he arrived alone as a 21-year-old in New Zealand in 2008 from the Indian state of Punjab, he had neither milked a cow nor spoken English, He enrolled as an international student at the Wairakei Polytech to study Information technology.
Qualified as an electrical engineer back home, he thought a career in IT was the next logical step.
He quickly discovered IT was not for him but, as fortune would have it, another door opened up.
“As an international student I had paid $18,000 for a year’s study. I had to do something otherwise I had to go back to India and the money was nonrefundable,” he says.
“Someone suggested to me ‘Why don’t you try farming?’, so I enrolled in a 12-month course.”
Although studying full-time, he worked parttime on a dairy farm in Tokoroa.
On finishing the polytech course, he was offered a full-time position on the farm where he stayed for two years as a farm assistant.
Bal had learned to read and write English in India, but not to speak it.
And to make things worse, the Kiwi accent created more difficulties.
“The first year was very difficult and I didn’t enjoy farming because I didn’t know what was going on. It was a bit stressful. Just going to the bank or shopping, you had to ask two or three times. But day by day my English got better, and slowly but surely, farming became very much a passion for me.”
Over the next few years he moved to farms at Rotorua and Culverden (in the South Island) – building knowledge, experience and gaining promotions.
He also completed part-time level 4 studies in production management.
When he moved to Jo and Geoff Crawford’s farm in Hikurangi, Northland in 2014 as farm manager, he was looking after 350 cows on 150 hectares.
The following year he took over 600 cows on 160ha and now, with the Crawfords’ purchase of a neighbouring farm, he has 1000 cows under his control on 360ha (effective).
“This season I’m contract milking on both farms. That contract has been signed off for a couple of years when it might be renewed or I might see if I can go for 50:50. The dream is to buy my own farm.”
This year was his second time in the dairy awards – he finished third last year.
He says it puts your name out there as someone who wants to progress, it goes on your CV and opens doors.
It means that when you are looking to move, you can choose a job you really want rather being chosen for a job.
“And I learn heaps because you meet all the new people, all the professionals. I wasn’t good on fertiliser, but I talked to all the guys and learned quite a bit.”
He says he can’t imagine doing anything else but farming now.
“I love pretty much everything about it because every day you have a new challenge. You always have to think.”
It’s a lifestyle for him now – a good place for the family to grow.