Aiming for national awards

Having entered the dairy awards before, Jess Lea took some persuading, but this time around she and husband Cam triumphed in their region.

Cam and Jess Lea with their trophy.

WHEN CAM SUGGESTED entering the 2023 Dairy Awards for the Bay of Plenty region, I’m pretty sure I screwed up my face and told him “you’re doing it yourself”. Between running the two farms and all our other commitments, I knew it was going to be a lot of work.

We had entered twice before, when we first started on our 300-cow Jersey farm in 2017, still quite new to sharemilking. We were very ambitious and took up the challenge. We put the effort in both years but didn’t place, however we did take home a couple of merit awards each year and as far as I was concerned that was our last crack at it. Life got busy, we had another baby on the way and we became a family of five.

So last year Cam decided we should give it one last go and we entered the 2023 competition. I took a bit more convincing but accepted the challenge.

Fortunately, we had kept our boards from the previous times we had entered. We were able to look back on what we had done and achieved, there were also some things we tried which we found didn’t work and we had kept some of our idealisms and accomplished a lot of goals we had set. This time around we had a few more years on our farm under our belt, more knowledge of our farm workings – especially with Cam entering data with DairyBase – and with expanding our business we had formalised all our procedures. When it was just Cam and I, everything was informal and discussed between ourselves. Now we are fully staffed, we have recorded Monday morning toolbox meetings which include breakfast over calving.

In comparison to the previous years we had entered, our mindsets had also changed, we had grown to love the farm we are on including the Jersey cows we initially thought we would turn into a crossbred herd.

We now have ambitions of buying the farm and are finding a way to do so. We also knew more of where our strengths and weaknesses are, Cam being more on to it with the financial side of things and I have become more passionate about the environmental side of our business, which includes wanting to plant waterways and creating riparian areas.

Winning sharemilker of the year for the Bay of Plenty came as a surprise to us. Even though we had put a massive amount of effort on our presentation, we knew we had some good competition, up against some other great farmers in the bay. On the awards night we ended up with three merit awards, Breeding and Livestock, the Business and Financial award, and the Environmental award, but it still came as a shock when we were named the first place winners.

Entering the competition has given us a chance to really analyse our business. We had spent the last couple of years working within our business, we hadn’t taken the time to see if farm ownership was achievable, with the goal of owning a farm by the time we hit 40. Looking at our experience in the competition, we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves, made some great connections and want to encourage others to put themselves out there.

We now have nationals to look forward to and we’re working on fine-tuning our presentation in the hopes of doing Bay of Plenty proud.