Balancing the farming workload will be key for Chris Lewis as he takes on a new role. By Sheryl Haitana.


Like most farmers, Chris Lewis is coping with rising interest rates, farm working costs increasing significantly and the fallout of a “pretty crap spring” with milk production down for the season.

“I feel that farming pressure right now.”

While the spotlight has been shining brightly on He Waka Eke Noa, the focus for most farmers now shifts to managing these onfarm pressures and it’s up to organisations like DairyNZ to keep on the ball with those issues, Chris says.

After 17 years with Federated Farmers, the Waikato dairy farmer is one of the newly appointed DairyNZ farmer directors responsible for overseeing the levy-body’s performance.

He is enjoying the change of pace from a more policy focus to subjects such as research trials and investment strategy, although immigration employment policy will always be something he will keep a close interest in. Chris says people who know him well, know he is no shrinking violet. He is driven to do these roles so he can deliver feedback from farmers to the board and ensure it is heard.

“As a levy payer myself I want bang for my buck, making sure DairyNZ is fit for purpose and farmers are getting value out of the levy.”

DairyNZ’s extension service is very important to keep rural communities vibrant and should be a strong part of every rural community and connecting with levy payers, he says.

One of his strengths is his ability to connect with farmers and find out what’s on their minds.

“You’ve got to listen and be acutely aware of what farmers are thinking, listen to what they are going through.

“I get that feedback pretty quickly from family, friends, neighbours and the community. I’m not anonymous, farmers know who I am and I’m not short of feedback.”

He has been full-time farming for 30 years since he left school at 16 and these roles are his way of giving back to the industry.

“It’s quite interesting and I enjoy it. It keeps me fulfilled.”

Chris is still hands-on when it comes to running the 330-hectare-effective dairy farm at Pukeatua, which milks 960 cows, along with the 140ha runoff he owns with wife Caroline.

“I haven’t been in the shed much in the last year or two, not because I’ve been avoiding it, but because I have an awesome farm team.”

Chris and Caroline have two children and their daughter is planning on studying agricultural science next year. The children see Chris working long hours out onfarm and on the computer, and a career in farming can be a hard sell.

“I’m like most farmers, we need to do less work, we read about it in your magazine, but we are a slave to the farm.”

In terms of farmers meeting the challenges coming through, balancing that workload will be key. Organisations like DairyNZ need to make sure any paperwork required by farmers is not just a box-ticking exercise, but is adding value to their business.

Good practice has always been part of farmers’ DNA and will continue to be, Chris says.

“Show farmers the goal post and they’ll get there any way they can.”