Jackie Harrigan

Focus, focus, focus was the mantra of Stephen Smyllie’s life and career progression until the point where he was announced Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa dairy manager of the year for 2020.

Stephen is production manager/2IC on the Pamu Farms of New Zealand (formerly Landcorp) 322-hectare, 840-cow Kahutara Wingpoint property and he cleaned up the award winning six merit awards on the night.

He has been very strategic in building his knowledge base and career direction, from relief milking for farmers neighbouring his Hauraki Plains lifestyle block home, to top ag student at Hauraki Plains College in his last year and school classes on the college’s trust farm, straight to Lincoln’s Dip Ag and back to the Waikato where he started working as a farm assistant for Pamu.

“I loved that Pamu had such a good career pathway and a clear progression and that there are opportunities in both farm management and also business management.”

After a year of working Stephen could see that getting the Lincoln Dip Farm Management would help him fast track that career so it was back to Canterbury for him.

“They even sent me off with a no-strings-attached $2000 scholarship to help with my student loan which was great.”

Back in the North Island he worked to follow the progression pathway – farm assistant to 3IC then 2IC on a 1300-cow 500ha Waikato Pamu farm, while being the youngest in a team of seven.

When the farm was passed back to iwi Stephen opted not to stay but transferred to the South Wairarapa Wingpoint unit to experience a new area, new system and new team.

“I was passionate about growing my career with Pamu, with the long-term goal of being a business manager, overseeing a cluster of farms.”

Stephen is full of praise for the new Wingpoint farm manager Hayden Donald who has gone above and beyond to support and transfer knowledge to him.

As production manager with responsibility and focus on cows and grass, Stephen says the Wingpoint farm has a challenging environment with very dry summers and wet winters.

“The farm backs on to the DOC wetland reserve called Boggy Pond, so improved drainage and improved pasture performance are the keys to success.”

“It’s a huge team effort on a big farm like this – and as well as making sure the stock are well fed and have enough time on pasture, the feed pad and crops, I also need to look after the staff and ensure they have enough time to rest.”

“We have a saying ‘teamwork makes the dreamwork’.”

“My personal values include having respect for people, their families and for the animals we have here. Animal welfare is at the heart of the business,” Stephen said.

For the land Stephen says they are trying to be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible – trying to do more with less.

“We have reduced cow numbers from 900 down to 830 and with the same amount of feed and improved drainage and management we are 40,000kg MS ahead.

“Even when we reviewed the target in light of a dry January we revised the target down but are still aiming for 326,000kg MS for the season, which will equate to 392kg MS/cow.”

And now with the Covid-19 lockdown Stephen says going to once-a-day milking will minimise time spent around the cow shed for the team.

The farm is part of the Baker Ag Dairy Systems Management benchmarking group which is a great way to learn from other farmers, Stephen says.

“I have found it very helpful – we have really open discussion on what each other is doing and how they are getting to their goals.”

Stephen himself is very goal-focused and at 23 is continually trying to learn and improve.

He is studying for his Diploma of Agri Business Management through Wintec and Primary ITO by distance learning through the Zoom platform, spending two hours a day once a week with the other 12 students on the course.

“It’s a great way to have class time if you are isolated like I am.”

He lives with his partner, dairy farm assistant Sophie Stills and along with playing lots of golf, Stephen says they enjoy getting out on adventures and going to the South Wairarapa Young Farmers Club activities.

He’s already smashing his five-year goals by making the DIA finals and winning the regional title, but has lots left on the pad to strive for.

“Of course, I would love to win the national title,” he laughed “So I will be pushing hard for that.”

On the farm he hopes to take the farm to being in the top five of all dairy units within Pamu and career-wise he is striving to be in a business manager position by 35, overseeing a cluster of farms.

“I love setting the bar high and then pushing myself hard to achieve all my goals.

“I am constantly planning, monitoring and reviewing – you never know what’s coming – it’s important to keep reviewing our performance – both personally and on the farm.”

To win the Primary ITO Power Play award Stephen reviewed the personality types of his farm team using the DOPE structure – identifying doves, owls, peacocks and eagles. The whole team sat down together and spent time understanding the process and the results and developing more effective ways of working with each other.

“It was really interesting and helpful to me, especially as a young person, and good to learn different ways of communicating.”

Runner up was Leon McDonald from Woodville and third was Aled Ellis from Pahiatua.

Dairy manager merit awards

Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa DIA Most Promising Entrant Award – Aled Ellis

Irrigation Services Employee Engagement Award – Stephen Smyllie

Moore Markhams Ltd Leadership Award – Stephen Smyllie

Vet Services Feed Management Award – Stephen Smyllie

DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Stephen Smyllie

Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Leon McDonald

Primary ITO Power Play Award – Stephen Smyllie

Westpac Financial Management & Planning Award – Stephen Smyllie