Sheryl Haitana

Matt Barr and Genna Maxwell make a formidable team, winning the 2019 Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year.

The couple lease Matt’s family dairy farm at Awakeri milking 405 cows in a DairyNZ System 5 operation.

Matt grew up in the family homestead where Genna and he now live. The block has been in the Barr family for 110 years, with Matt being the fourth generation to farm the land.

Genna grew up down the road on her parents’ lifestyle block at Taneatua. She lived next to her Grandad and uncle’s organic dairy farm, but she always escaped milking cows during her childhood.

“I think I was more interested in making the scones with Grandma.”

She studied a Bachelor of Law at Otago University and worked for two years in Whakatane before moving into the banking industry. After overseas travels she wound up in Tauranga working in corporate banking.

Meanwhile, Matt spent his final year of high school at Telford in South Otago before moving to Australia to drive tractors and muster cattle for two years.

After some move travel working in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Romania, Matt returned to New Zealand and studied a two-year Diploma in Farm Management at Lincoln. He then got a job on a dairy farm in Morrinsville for 18 months.

When his father Alan became ill Matt returned to the home farm to learn as much as he could from him before he passed away in 2014.

Matt and his mother Viv took up the mantle of running the business together while dealing with their grief.

“My mother has had a very active support role in maintaining this business after losing our key pillar,” Matt says.

Matt transitioned into equity manager and then went sharemilking for the family trust. He then met Genna at a mutual friend’s wedding and convinced her to move back to the eastern Bay, where she works for Attewell Clews & Cooper in Whakatane.

Matt and Genna have since bought the rest of the herd last year along with the Fonterra shares and are leasing the farm off the family trust.

The couple are focused on paying off debt in the next five years and researching other investment opportunities for when they have more equity.

They’re focused on diversification to minimise the risk in their business portfolio, Genna says. Matt has an investment in a hop development and Genna has being researching growing hemp.

Buying into the family farm is an option depending on succession planning, however, they will have to consider all of their options and what the best investment is, Matt says.

“We have to decide if we are comfortable with taking more debt on. And we want to be in a position where we can rely on ourselves not the family trust.

“Our goal is to keep growing equity, but it might be that we grow money outside of farming to put back into farming.”

Matt first entered the Bay of Plenty Share Farmer competition in 2016 and came runner up. With his dad gone, he saw it as an excellent opportunity to have outside feedback on how the farm was running and his own performance.

“I wanted to see how I was going, and it was an excuse to go over the business and put policies and systems in place.”

Having placed runner up the pressure was always on to enter the competition again and win it. Entering the awards with Genna this time around has certainly being an advantage, he says.

Genna has brought further knowledge and expertise to the foundation of their business, while Matt is teaching her the practical side.

For Genna, the competition has accelerated her farming familiarity. It has given her the opportunity to learn more about the farm business and for Matt and her to work together as a team.

“I’ve learnt so much that I wouldn’t have otherwise in that space of time.”

The financial side of the business is her forte and makes sense, however, it’s been important to learn the cyclical nature of farming to further understand the drivers.

“The financial analysis comes naturally to me, but it’s been good for me to learn why we are paying for fertiliser at that time of year, or about pasture management and how it relates to the financial performance.”

Genna likes to get out onfarm on the weekends when she can to learn more from Matt who has a list of dairy assistant jobs for her to work through.

“I want to be a confident set of hands. It’s definitely a juggling act, we like to get off-farm as well,” she says.

The couple won three merit awards and Matt was particularly pleased to pick up the LIC Recording and Productivity Award.

“I like to monitor the cows as productive assets. We are a System 5 and we are spending a lot of money on feed so we need to make sure we are making the right margins.

“That’s the part I enjoy – being able to see the results.”

The couple also won the DairyNZ Human Resources Award. Matt puts a lot of his HR skills down to taking it upon himself to get outside help.

“I was pretty green when it came to managing staff, I thought you just told people what to do all day, but you need to let people make their own decisions.”

He employed Coach Approach to help him improve his people skills
and got funding through NZ Trade and Enterprise.

Matt now has a good framework for working with people as individuals and completes performance reviews where staff set goals at the start of the year and have reviews to monitor their progress and performance.

“Staff are one of your biggest assets and Matt has a great foundation to have open and honest discussions with people,” Genna says.

The couple also won the Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award. The farm in summer is either a desert or full of summer grasses so they calve early and maximise their milk before Christmas.

“We try and utilise that early high-quality grass – the grass we utilise is where the profit lives.”

DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Matt Barr and Genna Maxwell• Ecolab
Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Jeremy and Melissa Shove • Federated Farmers
Leadership Award – Jeremy and Melissa Shove • Honda Farm Safety,
Health and Biosecurity Award – Jeremy and Melissa Shove • LIC Recording
and Productivity Award – Matt Barr and Genna Maxwell • Meridian Farm
Environment Award – Cameron and Jessica Lea • Ravensdown Pasture
Performance Award – Matt Barr and Genna Maxwell • Westpac Business
Performance Award – Jeremy and Melissa Shove