Elaine Fisher

There was never any doubt in Matt Dawson’s mind that dairy farming was the career for him.

“It is all I ever wanted to do,” the 21-year-old 2019 Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year says. He won $6550 in prizes through the awards.

It’s the first time Matt has entered the awards in which he also won the Farm Right Farming Knowledge Award, a reflection of his understanding of farming from pasture to animal health and staff management.

“Farming consists of so many different jobs, no day is the same and I get to work with animals, machinery and technology all on the same job,” Matt says. He is assistant manager for Henri Pennings on a 229-hectare, 620-cow Horsham Downs property, owned by Neville Henderson.

“I am fortunate that my boss Henri has really encouraged me to get involved in the farm, allowing me to prepare feed budgets and make decisions about most aspects of farm management. I run my plans past him and he keeps an eye on how I’m going, giving me some constructive criticism or making suggestions where necessary. I really appreciate the trust he shows in me.”

Matt grew up on his family’s Horsham Downs dairy farm, helping with milking and calf rearing from a young age. Early morning milking and long hours didn’t deter him from following his father Trevor into the industry.

“I always helped with calf rearing and young stock as well as relief milking. I really enjoy being able to work outside most of the day and like the physical work as it keeps me fit,” he says.

“As soon as I was 16, I left Hamilton Boys High School to work full time farming, beginning my Primary ITO training at the same time.

“I’m really proud of all my qualifications. It’s not easy to get all my assignments in on time while working long days. However, I always made sure I got them in on time as I didn’t want to be the one who had to re-sit anything.”

Matt found networking with other students and tutors particularly valuable. “The tutors encourage discussion-based learning where everyone can ask questions and share their knowledge. I learnt a lot that way and also made some good friends.”

This summer’s drought has been hard on the Horsham Downs farm. “The rain through spring and December was great with plenty of grass but since it got dry, we have been feeding out maize silage, to the extent that two-thirds of the cows’ diet was supplements.”

Some rain in February brought a little relief, with the pasture beginning to recover. Effluent is spread by three irrigators which are moved across 70ha, which has helped through the dry period.

Next season Matt and his wife Tayla, who is studying for a science degree at Waikato University, return to his family farm to begin their first lower-order sharemilking position.

“Our goal is to build equity in order to buy our own herd and go into an equity partnership within the next five to 10 years.”


  • I.S Dam Lining Ltd Most Promising Entrant Award – Kevin Arenhold
  • Farm Right Farming Knowledge Award – Matt Dawson
  • Waikato Farmers Trust Community and Industry Involvement Award – Georga Sanders
  • Blue Grass Contracting Communication & Engagement Award – Arsh Bhardwaj
  • DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Crystal Scown