Effective leadership key to on-farm success

Effective leadership key to on-farm success
Arjan Hulsman and Albert van Dalen take a break from the mowing on the 700ha dairy and cropping farm at Kirwee, west of Christchurch.

Registering their business last year – Kahika Farming Ltd – has been an exciting career progression for Canterbury-based dairying couple Matt and Georgie Nilsson.
The couple are variable rate sharemilkers for North Island-based dairy farm owners Selwyn and Jenny McLachlan, managing their 700ha dairy and cropping farm milking 1100 cows at Kirwee, west of Christchurch.
Matt, who grew up on a sheep and beef farm in the Hawkes Bay, fi rst worked for Selwyn and Jenny while a student at Rathkeale College. He later spent a year working on their Kirwee farm in his early 20s after graduating from Lincoln University with a Bachelor of Commerce in Agricultural Management.
“This June marked 10 years’ working for them in total, apart from a two-year gap working for Ted Wong in Balclutha, where I wound up as an operations manager for three dairy farms.”
After meeting Georgie – a Southland-based teacher who also grew up on a farm – the couple spent six months travelling in Europe, with the intention of eventually returning down south.
“(But) then Selwyn and Jenny asked if I’d come back to Kirwee. Georgie and I wanted to run our own business and that made sense to Selwyn and Jenny too. We set up Kahika Farming to make it easier to run the farm day to day, with staff and daily expenses. We’ll be here for another two years, so it gives that stability to the whole operation while also helping us to get ahead.”
Kahika Farming is named after an Angus stud that Matt’s grandparents once owned. “The word ‘kahika’ means ‘leader ancestor’ and leadership is also something we focus on very strongly.”
Matt has learned a lot about the importance of effective leadership through his years in farming. He’s honest about how the managerial role he took on in his early 20s in Balclutha was almost too much, too soon.
“I’m hugely grateful to Ted and Pat for that opportunity and we still have a great relationship – I learned so much there.” The farm at Kirwee has a team of six including Matt, plus a calf rearer and two part-time university students.
“We’re predominantly a team of Kiwis. We push people to learn and move out of their comfort zone but we also try to create an environment where people feel valued for what they do.”

Effective leadership key to on-farm success
Georgie and Matt Nilsson, variable rate sharemilkers in Canterbury for North
Island-based farm owners Selwyn and Jenny McLachlan.

That means not expecting staff to work excessively long hours and providing enough cover to accommodate leave requirements.
At the same time, members of the team have plenty of opportunities to learn and try new things.
“Georgie and I have invested in leadership programmes. It has been really useful. Through that, I met Stuart Taylor of Millennium Farming, who went through the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme and wrote a thesis on how there needs to be a culture change in farming. I’ve tried to adopt his ideas to fit here – good leadership is the absolute key.”
Matt now has his eye on the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme too. “It’s something I want to do over the next two to three years.”
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…

  • Cameron Contracting Ltd
  • Rural Fields Ltd

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