Courage, tenacity, hard work pay off for pair
We tend to forget that a seafarer from Amsterdam was the first European to cross the oceans and discover Aotearoa. That is, till talking with Dutch immigrants who braved the same journey and made New Zealand their home as dairy farmers.
With admiration, you are reminded that the transition from farming in Holland to the way things are done in New Zealand is reasonably significant, requiring courage, tenacity and a willingness to learn in order to succeed on the land. Low order sharemilkers Wilco and Noortje Hamers are one such couple.
Arriving in New Zealand in 2012, Wilco and Noortje took up a position as assistant herd manager on a 450-cow, Southland farm just out of Lumsden.
“My parents had a dairy farm in the Netherlands but there was no real opportunity for Noortje and me to go where we wanted to go with the family farm,” says Wilco. “New Zealand is one of those countries where you can start with nothing and work your way up in farming, which is hard to do in the Netherlands.”
At the end of the couple’s first season the manager left, providing Wilco and Noortje with the opportunity to start managing.
After five years, at the start of the current season, the farm owner offered them the opportunity to go lower order. “We’re very down to earth people – we knew what we wanted and we have worked hard for it,” says Noortje.
The couple ventured to New Zealand the first time about 15 years ago as part of their agricultural study programme, and worked on a North Island dairy farm for six weeks.
Noortje says she and Wilco found farming so different to Holland and thought it would be too difficult to adjust.
“In Holland, dairy farming is very high input, everybody has a wintering barn, we don’t do seasonal calving – it’s AI and calving all year round and the farm’s are generally smaller with about 100 cows. It’s very family orientated – working without staff. But now we’re here and we really love it. We have permanent residency so we’re here to stay.”
The farm is 176 hectares effective – with the milking platform 159ha – the balance used for young stock.
Wilco says the farm is reasonably flat but the clay soil gets very wet and dries out in the summer time – which is where the farm’s 400-cow wintering barn comes in handy.
“We use the barn mainly over the winter and spring and during wet periods but we also use it in the summer time when it gets very hot. The cows like a bit of extra shade.”
A farm assistant and assistant herd manager are permanent employees, while two agricultural students help out during spring calving.
Since living in New Zealand, the couple have produced three children – Emma, four, Luke, three and Fleur who is one. While Noortje is kept busy with the children she still manages to keep her hand in on the farm.
“I will have an au pair staying with us for three months over calving and that is when I will do a lot of on-farm work. But I do a lot of support work for Wilco and a lot of the financials as well.”
Self-development has played a key role in the couple’s on-farm success completing the People Lift programme through DairyNZ, which looks at HR management, as well as Mark and Measure, also through DiaryNZ, which has a financial management focus.
Involved in several discussion groups and trying something new each year, the couple are now involved in a monthly financial meeting with their farm adviser and the farm owners – Art and Helen Blom – if they are available, so that they can improve themselves in that area.
“What you do is ‘plan, do and review’. So you plan your budget for everything, do the work on farm, then review how you’re tracking.”
The couples contract has three years to run, but they already have their sights focused on their next step – 50/50 sharemilking, which may well be achievable on the same farm.
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