Sheryl Haitana

Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year Laurence Walden puts people at the top of his priorities and it’s what helps him manage a successful large-scale operation.

The 40-year old is the farm manager for Tauhara Farms Ltd Partnership at Taupo, milking 1040 cows on 365 hectares.

Next season he will oversee both of Tauhara’s operations, with a total of 2350 cows and nine fulltime staff under his management.

His wife Emma is very much the pillar behind the man and plays a big role in the successful running of the farm, Laurence says.

“Emma and I are really joint managers. Partners don’t always get as much credit as they deserve. I could do this job without Emma, but I couldn’t do it as good.”

Laurence, a father of five, is family orientated and his pathway in the industry has been focused on being able spend time with his children.

Emma and Laurence have three children together, Anahera, 9, Rehana, 6, and Tawhiri, 9 months. Laurence has two older children which also live with them, Justice, 18, and Tane, 17.

Laurence has had one employer who didn’t give him time off for the birth of one of his children, through to another farm owner who was insistent he be with his children when he needed to be.

People are all individuals and understanding what people’s motivations are and what their goals are is important, Laurence says. It’s a lesson he has taken through to his management style.

Some people will want to speed through the farming pathway and own their own farm one day, others will be content to be a milk harvester. Understanding what makes people tick and working with them as individuals is important, he says.

Laurence worked in the forestry industry for eight years after he left school, but the time came where he wanted something more stable for his future.

“Wood prices were down and logging crews were getting laid off, it was all pretty uncertain. I wanted something where I could work my way up the ladder and I wanted more job security.”

He stayed with a friend who happened to work on a dairy farm and he went and milked the cows and immediately thought it was something he could do fulltime.

He applied for a farm assistant role and got it, however, the first season made him question whether the dairy industry was for him.

“I didn’t like my first season as it was all weed-spraying and milking, I hadn’t even done a wash-down. I nearly went back to the bush – but the next job I got I was more involved.”

The farm owner gave him the opportunity to get involved with all aspects of the farm operation and that’s where his passion for dairy farming started.

“I was pretty green, it was all new but it was all exciting. I hate not learning.”

Emma’s father has worked for Landcorp for the last 17 years and Laurence always wanted to work for the state-owned company. He worked his way up and was first employed as a 2IC on Landcorp Tahi farm, the former Crafar-owned farm that had no roof on the farm dairy.

“We got the roof on the shed while we were there.”

After two years as 2IC Laurence got the opportunity to step up to farm manager on Tahi, overseeing 1400 cows and seven staff.

“I loved it, it was a big challenge, but people is definitely my strongest point. Where you spend time working as a farm manager really depends on the skill level of the people working for you.

“You might be in the shed more because you have new workers and their skill level with milking isn’t there yet.”

The biggest challenge is when there is conflict between staff members. Sitting them down and talking through it will solve the issue 99.9% of the time, he says.

“Sit down and talk it out before it builds up. People want to feel important. No one wants to feel like they’re doing a bad job, 99% of people want to do a good job but they might not have the skills yet, so you have to teach them.”

It’s how you approach incidents when they happen, because everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to remember people have a life outside the farm, he says.

“Ask them what’s wrong – sometimes their head is elsewhere because they have things going on in their life.”

Laurence got offered the job at Tauhara Farms where he has been for the last three years. The Tauhara farm came 10th in the Te Ara Miraka Farming Excellence Programme last season and are in the running for the top 10 again this year.

The programme points you in the right direction as a manager to ensure all your people are up-skilled in all aspects of the farm operation, he says.

It’s also a fantastic programme to get staff invested in what’s happening onfarm and help you achieve top results.

Laurence was runner up in the 2010 national Dairy Industry Awards in 2010 and he knew he wanted to try a win the manager’s title.

Entering the dairy industry awards is the greatest opportunity to benchmark yourself against your peers, he says.

The awards process is time-consuming and he was lucky to have an excellent 2IC onfarm so he could put the time in.

“Emma and I stayed up until 1am in the morning practising the presentation. We did the presentation for our friends, which I think was harder than in front of the judges.”

The long-term goal would be to go 50:50 sharemilking, but their five-year plan is to stay where they are and Tauhara Farms have offered them the opportunity to go contract milking in the future.


The Vetora B.O.P Employee Engagement Award – Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Chance Church.

Perrin Ag Consultants Ltd Leadership Award – Alexandra Lond.

James and Son Feed Management Award, DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Laurence Walden.

Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Bevan Samuel.

PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Nicholas Mitchell.