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Och the noo: Scot takes mooloo title

Kim Stewart Dec 12
Och the noo: Scot takes mooloo title
Waikato Share Farmers of the Year Steve Gillies and Amy Johnson went on to place third at the New Zealand Dairy Industry awards

From qualified mechanic in the Scottish border town of Duns to successful share farmer in Putaruru in the space of eight years, Steve Gillies says for him there is really no comparison between being a mechanic and dairy farming. “I absolutely love farming. I’m a big believer that if you don’t like something – change it.”

Steve and fiancee Amy Johnson, both aged 31, were recently named this year’s Waikato Share farmers of the Year.

First time entrants in the competition, the couple also collected merit awards for human resources and farm environment. “I felt absolutely shocked,” says Steve.

“It was just elation. Amy was integral in the awards really. She wanted to do it and put an awful lot of work in to get us there. “I would never have entered the competition without her.”

With a Bachelor of Applied Science, majoring in agriculture, Amy has a strong corporate background, currently working for the ANZ Bank as an agri-manager.

Previously working for Ballance as a fertiliser rep, and DairyNZ as a consulting offi cer, Steve says Amy brings a ‘wealth of knowledge’ to their farming partnership.

He says that ‘on-farm’ Amy does all the accounts, along with the human resource work including contracts and performance reviews, looks after the calves and provides relief milking when staff are away. Not from a farming background, Steve’s introduction to farm life was during his New Zealand OE in 2010.

When visiting a friend working on a dairy farm in Te Awamutu, he landed a job as an assistant on another of the owners farms. After seven months Steve decided dairy farming wasn’t for him and moved to Queenstown where he worked as a mechanic.

Three months in, a phone call from the owner of the Te Awamutu dairy farm convinced Steve to return to the Waikato working directly under him on the home farm.

Over a seven year period Steve worked his way up from farm assistant, to farm manager to contract milker, and meeting Amy along the way.

The couple moved to Putaruru at the start of this season, taking up a contract milking role working for Peter and Marian van der Heyden on their 150ha farm milking 470 cows.

“It’s quite an aesthetically pleasing farm with the Waihou River – the Blue Spring – plus a couple of other rivers and streams running through it,” says Steve. “The Waihou is one of the cleanest waterways in New Zealand.

It poses a bit of a challenge with the stock but we’re just doing a new riparian plan to protect the waterways going forward.” He says with a new property to get used to there are a lot of challenges. With the farm’s contour the shed is on the highest point and every race leads up to it. So it’s a long hard walk for the cows.

“You have to plan your grazing pretty well especially through the summer and the wetter months to minimize their walking. We’re making a few changes around the property to be a bit more energy efficient—looking at our power and water usage. Probably the big one is pushing our guardianship of the Waihou waterway and the Purere stream.”

Staff management is high priority for Steve and Amy, which was reflected in their merit award for human resources.

“We’re pretty proactive with staff training. One of them is on an AgITO course and the other one will be starting next season to up-skill him. We recognise that staff are an integral part of our business so we have to look after them as much as they look after us.”

The couple own 22ha and a house in Te Awamutu which they are using to build equity by repaying debt. “We have an offer of 50/50 milking on this property in 2019 season. So there is a plan there and we are working towards that.”

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