Out of the kumara patch

Ann-Kristin Loferski - Southland/Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year. By Elaine Fisher.

Working in a kumara garden isn’t the usual pathway to the dairy industry but indirectly it is the route Ann-Kristin Loferski, 2023 Southland Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year, took. In 2018 Ann-Kristin was in New Zealand with a friend taking a gap year before returning to Germany to study medicine at university.

“We were working on a kumara farm in Northland, staying at a campground when we met a couple who invited us to their dairy farm where I was invited to learn to milk the cows. “They had a mainly Ayrshire herd and most were pets. The shed was a 15-aside herringbone and that first milking I fell in love with how relaxed the cows were, how everything came together and enjoyed the milk afterwards.”

Ann-Kristin travelled to the South Island, working as a relief milker and calf rearer on a 450-cow farm. By the time her working holiday visa was about to expire, she had decided to make a career in the New Zealand dairy industry.

“I asked my employers to sponsor me for a working visa and they did,” she says. Ann-Kristin (24) today is herd manager on Matt Haugh’s 334-hectare Heriot property, milking 960 cows.

The West Otago farm is a five-person, high-input, large-scale operation with split calving, winter milking and a wintering barn.

Ann-Kristin’s family watched the awards night ceremony live at which she won three merit awards and $7000 in prizes. “They are very proud of what I have achieved and supportive of my decision to stay in New Zealand and make dairying my career. In fact, when I left Germany in 2018 my mother said I would not be returning home to live there. She knew, even though I didn’t.

“I see myself progressing in the industry, gaining more skills and adapting to new systems while working towards farm management and in the more distant future 50/50 sharemilking and herd ownership. “I’m excited to see the progress the industry makes year after year in becoming more efficient, incorporating new technologies into New Zealand’s unique farming system and making genetic progress to keep up with consumer demand for more environmentally friendly, transparent livestock farming practices.”

The local young farmer’s club and a group of friends who regularly get together for a meal are important support networks for Ann-Kristin.

She had planned to return to Germany to visit family in 2020 but Covid put a stop to that.

“The hardest part for me about working in the dairy industry was mainly over Covid and not being able to leave the farm even on days off. The long hours of work can drain you, but I have friends who pick me up again so I never really feel I can’t do it.”

Runner-up in the dairy trainee category was Liam Roberts and third place went to farm assistant Olivia Braven.