Words and photos by Chris Neill

Contract milker Katrina Pearson is living the dream with husband David and daughters Emily and Charlotte, living and working on Puketitoi Farm at Purua, west of Whangarei. She has just captured another dream goal – winning the 2021 Northland Share Farmer of the Year award. Katrina’s journey to this award started as the daughter of successful dairy farming parents. She and her two brothers observed how the key ingredients of thoughtfulness and discipline applied to dairy farming can be economically rewarding and a great lifestyle. It was sufficient for Katrina to complete a Diploma in Agriculture at Lincoln University in 2008.
From there she joined the New Zealand Police, initially as a general duties constable and ultimately to a specialist interviewing young children. Katrina wanted to progress on her merits and performance and resisted seeking promotion that might be seen as meeting gender equality targets. It was a career she enjoyed, with time out to give her two daughters their start in life.
In 2014, Katrina’s parents Richard and Sharron Booth along with her brother Andrew and his wife Vicky purchased Puketitoi Farm. This provided an investment opportunity for Katrina and David, which they took after selling their residential property. The farm was being operated by a contract milker with Katrina looking after young stock on the 66ha runoff. Four years of watching someone else run the farm was enough for Katrina to ask for the role on the 186 effective ha farm. While Richard and Sharron responded with enough hesitancy to ensure it was a serious commitment, Katrina suspects there was a grander plan in play. These successful dairy farmers were encouraging and making it possible for the next generation to step up and prove themselves capable. Supporting Katrina’s entry in the Dairy Industry Awards was a step toward her checking on that capability. Katrina is passionate about operating a profitable dairy business. Everything Katrina earns from the farm is invested in increasing their shareholding, while David has his own business off-farm which supports the family. The motivation to learn, commitment to continuous improvement and adoption of the disciplines needed for success are evident in the suite of Merit Awards Katrina received, winning awards for human resources, dairy hygiene, health, safety and biosecurity, recording and productivity, farm environment, pasture performance and business performance.
Katrina speaks gratefully and graciously of the role modelling and mentoring of her parents Richard and Sharron. In her farming journey to date there have been plenty of hand-ups. While their opinions are highly influential and their moral support essential, Katrina’s astuteness and determination to succeed is undeniable.

Focused on freisians

The farming business is focused on 460 Friesian cows that are autumn calved with planned start of calving on 20 March. For two seasons out of three that Katrina has been onfarm they have milked cows for 365 days of the year – the 2019/20 drought being the exception. Empties and culls are milked through until the new calvers return which extracts maximum value from the culls before they leave the farm. With this extended lactation, cow condition has been maintained and somatic cell count has been well within acceptable limits. Autumn calving is focused on achieving a longer peak milk period and more days in milk, helped by the calving date fitting the pasture production profile of the farm. With the winter milk premiums addressing the additional costs, overall, it is a consistently more profitable business. Milk production is at 435kg MS/cow or 1099kg MS/ha. Attention to detail is a key element of success and the judges’ comments with the LIC Recording & Productivity Award were “Katrina effectively used onfarm reports and information to communicate her great herd management. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarking reinforced her strengths in this area.”
Pasture is the primary source of feed with 10.5t dry matter (DM) harvested in the 2019/20 season, which was back by about 500kg/ha due to the drought. Regular plating and recording in Minda provide the data for pasture allocation. Annual nitrogen application is proactively being reduced and has been lowered to 99kg/ha.The skill to consistently deliver high quality pasture requires clear understanding of the outcomes expected and the multiple factors that must be managed. With the Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award, judges noted “Katrina demonstrated superior pasture management throughout the presentation. The judges could see pasture quality onfarm reflecting Katrina’s skill set. Katrina showed usage of tools and resources to manage the entire feed programme efficiently.”
In addition to pasture grazed, 90 tonnes of grass silage, 26ha of maize is grown to contribute 500+ tonne DM annually while also contributing to a pasture renewal programme. In addition, three paddocks that are unsuitable for cropping are improved annually with grass to grass renovation.
Further supplement comes as 630 tonne of palm kernel and 225 tonne of dried distiller grains (DDG) – a higher amount to compensate for reduced pasture production due to the 2019/20 drought. The farm was purchased with considerable infrastructure which includes two herd homes making supplement feeding efficient, plus separate bunkers for palm kernel, DDG, grass silage and maize silage. Cows are milked through a 50-bail rotary with no additional automation. The herd homes allow the cows to be wintered on the platform. Young stock are raised on the adjoining 66 ha runoff with growth rates monitored as part of achieving target weights. The farm is predominantly Wharekohe clay with 50% flat which can get extremely wet in winter but holds on well into summer, 20% rolling, and 30% steep which is challenging for tractor work. With encouragement from Katrina, the directors agreed to aerial topdressing the steep hill and wet flats.
Katrina operates the farm with two full-time staff members, Daniel Simpson and Bella Wati – a ratio of 153 cows per labour unit. Both are relatively new to the farm, making Katrina hands-on and busy. She is keen to help her team develop their potential and retain these skills in her business – a challenge that will be increased with Bella winning the 2021 Northland Dairy Trainee Award. Katrina’s commitment to her staff and ensuring they can fully contribute to the business was recognised in two of her merit awards. With the DairyNZ Human Resources Award, judges commented that “Katrina has strong communication skills. Katrina’s team are highly valued, and she shows genuine care for their development and wellbeing. She has effective policies and procedures in place to enhance her business productivity.”
Judges noted with the Honda Farm Safety, Health & Biosecurity Award that “Katrina has presented and demonstrated a clear understanding of Health & Safety requirements. This was well implemented with formal procedures and covered to a very high standard.”

Profit and pasture

Profit is a key measure of success for Puketitoi Farm. DairyBase figures for 2019/20 report gross farm income at $8.60/kgms and operating expenses at $5.13/kg MS giving an operating profit of $3339/ha. Within this farm working expenses are $4.18/kg MS. Richard and Sharron have significant input to the financial decisions for the business and Katrina has clarity of both the Puketitoi Farm finances and her own financial goals. With the Westpac Business Performance Award, judges commented “Katrina comprehensively understands her business from the cash position through to equity growth that will assist her to reach her goals of a multi-generational farm business. Katrina was able to show where her business position is on a short and long term basis to articulate progress towards varied options explored.”
Katrina’s personal commitment is to do justice to whatever she undertakes from managing the detail of day-to-day operation to having a strategic approach to the business. The Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award recognised her attention to detail with judges observing “Katrina showed a high level of farm dairy management. She covered all components strongly, demonstrating her ability to produce high-quality milk. There are strong procedures and training programmes in place. In her farming business Katrina is focused on driving profitable production. Her approach is based on measure – monitor – respond which translates to measuring pasture so it can be accurately allocated as the primary feed source. Combining this with feed budgeting allows her to fully feed cows while not wasting feed. Juggling feed mix to maintain production, milk quality and cow condition are part of the equation.
With the solid, reliable infrastructure in place, Katrina’s management systems are successfully meeting the business’ environmental obligations and commitments. Judges stated with the Meridian Farm Environment Award that “Katrina demonstrated a strong understanding from on-farm application through to regulation. This was evident physically on-farm, reporting and compliance was completed to a high standard.”
Katrina entered the Dairy Industry Awards to benchmark herself, to understand what she is doing well and where she can make improvements. The process has helped her to focus on the business in conjunction with working in the business. This is part of her commitment to a career and industry which she is passionate about. It provides a mix of physical and mental challenge with financial and lifestyle rewards benefitting her family. Looking into the future she is hopeful that the dairy industry is not regulated out of business.

Northland Share Farmer Merit Awards:

DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Katrina Pearson
Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Katrina Pearson
Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Luke Oud
Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award – Katrina Pearson
LIC Recording and Productivity Award – Katrina Pearson
Meridian Farm Environment Award – Katrina Pearson
Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Katrina Pearson
Westpac Business Performance Award – Katrina Pearson