West Coast dairy unit Mawhera Tuatahi Farm was recently honoured with achieving Runner-Up position at the prestigious BNZ Maori Excellence in Farming Awards – Dairy.
Held in Christchurch in May and attended by more than 650 people including the Governor General – The Rt Hon.
Dame Patsy Reddy, the Minister for Maori Development – the Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, and the Associate Minister of Agriculture – Hon.
Meka Whaitiri, the awards acknowledge and celebrate business excellence in New Zealand’s important pastoral sector.
Nestled in the Arahura Valley, where the historic road/rail bridge once traversed the mighty Arahura River famous for its pounamu, the 285-hectare farm is owned by the Proprietors of the Mawhera Incorporation.
Mark and Deb van Beek have been 50/50 sharemilking their herd of 500 Friesian/Jersey/Ayrshire cross cows on the property, for the last 12 years.
Mark says that following several on-farm visits, field days and around-the-table discussions, the judges were impressed with the rigor and approach to health and safety, along with human resource management that they observed on the farm.
With a very flat management structure, Mark and Deb employ one permanent full-time farm worker, a permanent part timer and one casual worker.
“We have regular meetings with our staff – at least once a month but often much more regularly depending on the season and the work that is going on at the time. We’ve developed a pretty good culture now in regard to health and safety and the staff are pointing out hazards to me.”
Mudguards, indicators and brake lights have been retro-fitted to a lot of the farms trail gear and the wearing of helmets when riding bikes is just a given – just like putting the seat belt on.
A motorbike track used by the couple’s two boys, Jake 16 and Pat 12, doubles as a quad bike assessing track for staff.
“We put our team through the course, get them to the tipping point on un-even ground to demonstrate that they’re actively riding the bike and not just being passive. I have failed a few people.”
While both coming from rural backgrounds – Mark from a nearby dry stock farm and Deb from a boysenberry orchard in Nelson – the couple pursued different career choices before gravitating back to farming in their early 30’s.
Deb is a qualified occupational therapist while Mark qualified as an engineer, spending several years working in building services, before going down the path of tourism and channeling his energies into white water rafting and cave guiding.
Following a period in the United Kingdom the couple returned to their roots in the Coast and were urged by people, including Damien O’Connor, to give farming a try. The rest is history – as they say.
“It did take me a while to go farming from my original roots but when you start having kids things change a bit. The kids have grown up on the farm. They get out on the farm and enjoy the tractor work and they’re happy to help us out with the other work – most of the time.”
Deb is also very involved in the farm, sharing the bookwork with Mark, the calf rearing and, Mark says, organising him.
“She takes care of all the HR and health and Safety work, which frees me up to get work done out on the farm itself. It’s a real team effort between Deb and me – you couldn’t do it otherwise.”
Mark also makes use of LIC FarmWise consultant Simon Pontin’s technical expertise and toolkit.
“Simon helps with our winter feed budget, the spring rotation planner and fertiliser planning,” explains Mark.
“He also helps with condition scoring of the cows, often seeing changes that we don’t and comparing them to cows on other farms.”
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