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Agriculture

Good team, good neighbours a blessing

Good team, good neighbours a blessing
Tokoroa farmer Mary-Ann Mathis plans the day ahead with a farm manager.

It’s five years since Mary-Ann Mathis found herself running the family farm in Tokoroa after her husband Adolph died suddenly while out on the farm.

Mary-Ann and Adolph married in 1979, the same year that Adolph purchased his first 35 hectare farm off neighbours and leased a further 66 from his parents.

Forty years later Mary-Ann and her team run three farms milking around 1000 cows and a dry stock unit..

Because the smaller home farm had been a Dairy Push farm for a few years she and Adolph had already done the work of having to quantify and justify what they were doing and write it all down. As Mary-Ann says,“it gave me the coat-hooks to hang things on because I already had an idea of what I was doing and what I had to measure and how I was going to go about it.”

She has continued to work with AgFirst consultant Mark Macintosh and son Colin helps with the practical knowledge behind running the farms.

“ I’ve got good staff, and I run a notebook system and a year planner. I started doing that just after my husband died and it’s the most important thing I’ve done,” says Mary-Ann.”

Whether I’m here or not everyone can see what’s happening where on the farm and what’s being planned. Participating in a Mark and Measure programme has helped a lot in structuring the business and developing better systems to operate it .

With the farms to run and four adult children with ten grandchildren between, them simply managing her time to see enough of her family while staying on top of the farm is one of Mary-Ann’s biggest challenges.

“Trying to do what I always did, but not having someone at home to do all of that while I go away for a grandchild’s birthday or something, it’s tricky, but we run a different sort of management system here. Each farm is managed separately but we run it all together when there’s a project and manage them all with five full time staff and casuals when we need them. My daughter Claire’s doing the accounts for the farm business overall now too so I’ve got a good team.”

Mary-Ann feels blessed to have good neighbours who will step in unasked when they can see there’s something that needs to be done.

A big thing in the early days on her own was working out how to deal with drug use among staff. She’s learnt to maintain a clear policy on drugs, which is to be drug free, and be prepared to follow through with it.

“It’s easy to back down on it but Ag-Resultz will do the drug tests and Federated Farmers run seminars on it as an issue and there are people you can ring to back you up. It’s really important.”

For several years Mary-Ann has been teaching a Trades Academy Agricultural programme which she’s adjusted from two classes a day to one full day a week. It’s within walking distance to her farm so she can provide ready access for practical components like putting up an electric fence or drenching cattle.

“It’s the thing I enjoy the most,” she says “and a lot of those people have come back and worked for me.” Mary-Ann believes Federated Farmers has an important role in the rural community.

Both she and her husband have been very involved with this organization over many years. She has been Chairperson of the Tokoroa Branch for some time.

“We have had to adapt to the fact that people do not come to meetings as a social contact any more but the organization is very important in so many aspects of rural life. The biggest thing we do is a dinner for 200 – 230 people every June to welcome the new farmworkers, sharemilkers and owners to the district. It keeps you in contact with your community and means you can make some change happen for your community like sorting out a school bus for the forestry conversion farms workers.”

Mary-Ann believes that both Federated Farmers and the Dairy Women’s Network are great ways for women farming on their own to catch up with other women doing what you’re doing and to share information and support.

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