West Coast/Top of the South | Dairy Trainee of the Year

A background in science has proved invaluable for Sam Smithers who says dairy farming is all about science.

The 24-year-old won the West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year and says his background in geology and biology was a factor. He is a farm assistant for Alan and Zana Berry on their 400ha, 700-cow farm near Blackball and he entered the awards this year to evaluate his knowledge and skills.

Brought up on a West Coast drystock farm that had been owned by the family for 150 years, Sam headed to the University of Canterbury for a science degree majoring in geology and biology. He has yet to complete that degree because after three years at university he decided he needed a gap year back on the West Coast, which led to a job on a dairy farm and a change in direction.

He still plans to return to the University of Canterbury for a year to complete his degree, but he is committed to a career in dairying which revolves around science every day.

“The science degree will be an asset to any farm because farming is about science. It’s a good background for feed calculations when feeding cows; you understand minerals and the chemicals behind it, and there’s a lot of soil science in geology. Science gives you an understanding about it and I don’t think I would have done so well without my science background.”

Today, the environmental footprint of farms is the topic of conversations and the rules farmers face, whereas due to his interest in science, Sam is more interested in the solutions.

“There are going to be new ideas and ways of doing things.”

He is also keen on farm mapping following a course he completed through distance learning with Massey University. On the last farm he worked, he produced several farm maps including one for the complicated water system.

“I understood the system and when I left, everyone else knew where everything was.”

Looking ahead, Sam plans to complete his degree some time and then start a contract milking business on the Coast. He wants to stay around family and the Coast is an ideal environment for the lifestyle he leads outside dairying.

“The West Coast is a beautiful place and it’s a good community here. I really love tramping and there’s endless tramps down here. And though people think it’s a long way from anywhere, the Coast is really central.

“A work-life balance is important and I’m always busy. I go to work to get time off.”

Sam is also a keen snowboarder and says hobbies are important for that work-life balance. If the day at work isn’t the best, he says the hobbies at the end of the day are something to look forward to.

He won two merit awards including the Dairy Holdings Limited Farming Knowledge Award and the DairyNZ Practical Skills Award.

RUNNER UP in the Dairy Trainee category was 21-year-old Rachel Bland who is a third in charge (3IC) and assistant dairy production manager for Pamu Farms’ 309ha, 650-cow farm near Reefton. Third place went to 21-year-old Stephanie Gray who is a herd manager on a 268ha, 700-cow farm near Takaka.

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:

Greenfield Motors Most Promising Entrant Award – Delvalee Bennett

Dairy Holdings Limited Farming Knowledge Award – Sam Smithers

Aotea Electric Westland Ltd Community & Industry Involvement Award – Stephanie Gray

Zealan Wireless Internet Communication & Engagement Award – Ben Tytler

DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Sam Smithers