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Zimbabwe farm memories still raw

Tom O'Leary Oct 10
Zimbabwe farm memories still raw
Northland’s Dairy Manager of the Year winner Lorraine Ferreria was raised on a crop and beef farm in Zimbabwe. Her family was run off the farm at gun point.

Winner of the 2019 Northland Dairy Manager competition Lorraine Ferreira knows what it’s like to start her life anew.

Growing up in Zimbabwe on a crop and beef farm that had been in the family for generations one day it was suddenly all over when 200 people showed up at the farm gate and demanded the farm be handed over.

“We’d been prepared for it to happen and had run drills of what to take and where to run when it did. It wasn’t a peaceful ‘can you leave’. They came with weapons.If you didn’t leave you’d pay for it with your life,” she remembers.

The family fled, eventually ending up in New Zealand on a lifestyle block in Ashburton.

“I swore never to give farming a nudge again but it must be in my blood because next thing I knew I was doing some relief milking after school,” says Lorraine who was just 15 when she arrived in New Zealand.

Still resisting the urge to go farming she completed a bachelor of physical education degree at Otago University but a combination of a lack of job opportunities during the recession and her brother in law converting his farm to dairy saw her try her hand at dairying again.

She planned to stay for one year but four years later was still there.

Lorraine worked her way up through the dairy system on various farms before ending up sharemilking with her now wife Lisa Avery on a farm in Canterbury.

The payout suddenly dropped to $3.90 and it was a struggle which led the couple to move to Northland where, since 2017, Lorraine has been managing three units for Fonterra: 260ha dairy unit milking 400 cows, a 98ha support block and a 120ha unit for raising beef stock and R2 heifers.

At around the time she took on the role Lorraine and Lisa also became parents to Piper, now two years old.

Lisa, who grew up on a dairy farm and had her own successful dairy career before meeting Lorraine, takes on the main caregiver role as well as working part time for NZ Grazing.

Lorraine says the farms she manages are far from the norm – the farms are irrigation farms and their primary purpose is to receive waste water from Fonterra Kauri, which processes up to three million litres of milk a day at peak.

For Lorraine this means her main objective is not growing grass, as it is for most dairy farmers, but rather to ensure the farm is in the right condition to receive the water it needs to.

In practical terms this means no break fences, flexible use of the land and boundaries of the dairy unit and avoiding pugging at all costs.

“Our pasture management is not dictated by pasture cover. We decide which paddocks to graze depending on soil moisture,” she explains.

“I walk through each paddock and think ‘is my heel digging into the soil?’.

There can’t be any soil compaction or pugging as that prevents irrigation from filtering through.

The farm stocking rate is low because of the nutrients the soil receives from the waste water.”

The farms grow crops to feed cows when they can’t go on to paddocks – not because there is not enough grass but because the soil is too moist.

This season 25ha of maize and 11ha of turnips is being grown.

Over one million tonnes of silage is exported from the farm each year and sold.

In addition to her manager job Lorraine is studying toward a diploma in agribusiness.

She says that she is keen to stay in her present role and entered the NZ Dairy Awards for the experience, to benchmark herself and meet other locals.

Lorraine also took out four merit awards – Mark Cromie Motor Group Leadership Award, DeLaval Livestock Management Award, Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award and the Fonterra Dairy Management Award.

“Was I surprised to win? Yes and no. I put a lot of work and thought into it but I was surprised to win first time and very stoked. My intention is to keep progressing in this role and to grow to perhaps a larger role with more farms. This role is a massive learning curve; it’s not just about milking cows.”

Lorraine admits memories of what happened in Zimbabwe are still raw all these years later.

She sometimes looks up her family’s farm on Google Earth and says she doesn’t even recognise it any more.

“Everything we built has been stripped and looted – fences, trees … It was my grand-parents and parents that built up that farm. It was bloody hard for my parents to have worked so hard on that farm then to lose it. The hardest thing for me is that no one is farming that land any more.”

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