Farming is in the genes

Gurpreet Singh - West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year. By Anne Hardie.

It was a big night for Gurpreet Singh at the West Coast-Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards. It was his birthday, his parents were visiting from India and he won the Dairy Manager of the Year award for the region. It was the best birthday present.

In his thank you speech, he remembered to thank the cows because, as he says, he would not be collecting an award without them and they are his real boss.

“If they don’t perform, I don’t get paid. It’s all about them, so there’s no compromise when it comes to looking after the cows.”

The 31-year-old manages Pamu Farms of New Zealand’s Bassett farm on the West Coast’s Cape Foulwind where he milks 1050 cows at the peak of the season on 460 effective hectares. This season the farm has a target production of 362,000kg milksolids.

It is a scenario he could not have imagined growing up in India on an arable farm growing crops such as rice and wheat, with much of it done manually. His family has been farming for generations – it is in his genes, he says. But the only cows he knew were the two hand-milked pets.

He headed to New Zealand to study for a business management diploma and when some of his friends headed to dairy farms because there were jobs on offer, he followed. He found a job on a farm in Canterbury as a farm assistant, discovered he loved it, and stayed there for five years as he moved up to the farm manager role. From there he moved to the West Coast and is glad he followed his friends to dairying.

“Eight years later I’m still doing it and really excited about what it brings,” he says. “Back home if someone said they were farming, it is looked down upon. Here, if I tell people I am a dairy farmer, people have respect for farmers because we put food on the table. They say: ‘you must be making a lot of money’.”

It is so different to farming in India, that he started sharing his farming experiences on YouTube to show how knowledge, resources and support can make a difference to farming.

He still finds it incredible that people have faith in him to run a $15-million business and says that keeps him motivated.

The goal of owning his own farm also keeps him motivated and he says that is achievable by being smart about money. He has invested in property in India where there has been “crazy growth” in property prices and now owns a couple of houses, sections and some land. Doing his numbers, it financially makes more sense to do that than invest in NZ and he has the contacts and knowledge to invest in India. But he is also exploring opportunities to get ahead here so he can reach that goal and one of his ideas is to team up with like-minded people to take on contracts on larger farms and do it better. Combining the knowledge and working together with a larger team on a large-scale farm could improve outcomes for everyone, he suggests.

“Can we do things differently? Two people with the same calibre and goals so we can get to where we want to go.”

He finds many people progressing up the industry look at contract milking on a smaller farm with less staff. But he thinks farm ownership may be more achievable on large-scale enterprises and combining strengths to do it better.

It also fits with his philosophy to continually step outside his comfort zone to get ahead. He swapped Canterbury for the West Coast for that reason and does not want to stay in one place too long and get too comfortable.

“I want to constantly work toward that goal of owning my own farm.”

One of his strengths on the way to that goal is working with people, especially training young people in their dairying role.

“I find it rewarding and see myself in them. I was a rookie and I had someone who was patient with me.”

Working well with staff is increasingly important when the dairy industry is struggling to find people to work on farms, but he says not everyone is cut out for the job and sometimes it is good to acknowledge that and help them work out where they want to be.

“If someone isn’t liking it, I will sit down with them and find a job for them. I’d rather be supporting them wherever they want to go.”

He is in charge of four permanent and one casual staff who tell him he has a calm nature and he acknowledges it helps through those stressful days in dairy farming.

“I tell myself it is going to be better tomorrow.”

Gurpreet had not intended to enter the awards, but his boss and business manager of Pamu’s Cape Foulwind dairy operations, Jack Raharuhi, encouraged him to enter and told him he was going to win it. It is the first time he has ever entered any awards and he is pretty sure he will be back one day to compete in the share farmer category.

Following his win, he intends to donate 10% of his winnings and says that will likely be to those impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

“It’s important to me to be giving away when you get so much from the community.”

Runner-up in the Dairy Manager category was Shaun Rhodes from Dobson and third placegetter was Kieran Hamilton from Moana.