Welsh-born Kirsty Thomas encourages fellow ‘townies’ to make the move to farming. By Anne Lee.

While Lincoln University Dairy Farm’s (LUDF) new demonstration lead, 32-year-old Kirsty Thomas is certainly a big advocate for young women in agriculture, she’s an even greater advocate for anyone coming into the sector with no previous rural connection.

“I didn’t’ grow up on a farm and, in my experience, that’s actually been a bigger factor than being female when it comes to how people first judge you in the farming sector.

“It takes quite a bit of effort to catch up and learn some of the things that people who’ve been born and bred in farming know, so people who come from outside the sector are usually pretty committed.

“At the moment there are more people going out of farming than coming into it so I think it’s really important we’re very encouraging and supportive. We need them.”Born in Wales, Kirsty spent her younger years in North Cornwall before her parents emigrated to Auckland when she was just 15 years old.

“I loved the outdoors, loved animals and when I left high school I thought Lincoln University degrees looked like something I’d enjoy.”

Not only did she enjoy the degree and the Lincoln life, she also showed that a so-called “townie” could more than foot it in the land-based sciences, earning herself a four-year Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree with honours in plant science.

Then it was off to the West Coast and a job with Pamu – LandCorp Farming, working at Cape Foulwind as a farm technician. It was a chance to put her technical science knowledge to practical use and a great opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day aspects of farming.

After two years there, the enquiring and ever-curious Kirsty decided she wanted to complete a PhD so she headed back to Lincoln and in 2018 earned her doctorate.

Her study was part of the wider Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching project.

In December 2017 Dairy Exporter profiled Kirsty’s study along with four other young women also carrying out their doctorates in the Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching project after they presented their studies at the South Island Dairy Event (SIDE).

Their research led to numerous practical applications and solutions farmers have taken up, particularly in Canterbury where restrictions on nitrogen loss have been part of regulation for several years.

Check out the story “Girl Science” here.www.farmlife.co.nz/researchers-focus-on-the-urine-patch

Since 2018 Kirsty has been working for Dairy Farm Management Services alongside farm consultant John Donkers, Selwyn Rakaia vet Donald Arthur and farm consultant Brad Sutton.

Her work there as an environmental consultant involves preparing consents, completing nutrient budgets, and carrying out due diligence to understand consent conditions and investigate likely impacts of regulations.

“I love learning and there was certainly plenty of that when I took on that job – it was a fairly steep learning curve to start with but I feel like there’s always something new coming out – new regulations and rules and new government policies to get your head around.”

Kirsty’s now a shareholder and director of the company and has worked in the business two days a week since having two-year-old son Sam.

Another two days a week are now also spent on her role at LUDF where again she gets to exercise her love of learning and all things agriculture.

“It’s so good to be right where research is being implemented on a commercial level, where it can come into practice and I can be part of the discussions on what’s working or what needs to be changed.”

It’s especially exciting to see the evolution of her own research and how it’s helped inform further studies that have led to LUDF now including paddocks of pure plantain into its grazing regime as a way to help reduce nitrate leaching.

The practice of including whole swards of plantain is a work in progress for the farm and one both New Zealand and overseas farmers are watching with interest.


“We get a lot of visitors here at LUDF from New Zealand and from all around the world, all from a variety of backgrounds – some are farmers, some are commercial businesses, some are researchers as well as regulators or politicians and some are general public or school children.

“I love meeting the visitors and hearing about their systems or the research that’s going on overseas too.”

Kirsty says there are many common issues facing farmers all around the world so it’s good to hear their perspectives and what’s happening elsewhere to tackle those common issues. As demonstration lead at LUDF, Kirsty organises the four annual focus days which can attract about 200 farmers and rural professionals.

The focus days update visitors on the key practices on the farm – such as its move last season to a 10 in 7 (10 milkings in seven days) milking regime where cows are milked once-a-day (OAD) on the weekends as well as OAD on Tuesday and Thursday.

They’re milked twice-a-day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Other topics such as the latest research findings, explanations of new or impending regulations and comparisons with other top-performing farmers are often also a feature of the focus days. Kirsty is the point of contact for those wanting to visit the farm including those wanting to join the weekly farm walks on a Tuesday morning.

“We get a range of people coming along and there’s always plenty of discussion as we go around.”

Some visitors will bring their own platemeter and there are some great discussions with the farm’s manager Peter Hancox, about covers and what’s happening onfarm. Every week, Peter and Kirsty update the farm data on the LUDF website – www.ludf.org.nz.

It is a comprehensive update on what the past and next week’s activities will be on farm with the data including the amount of silage being fed, fertiliser going on, number of cows being milked and production.

A highlight of the weekly information is an update on the farm’s pasture covers with the feed wedge updated showing paddock by paddock drymatter (DM)/ha covers, feed demand, any potential feed surpluses or deficits and weekly growth rates. Kirsty’s also the person behind the farm’s social media presence so check out the LUDF’s FaceBook page and Instagram account.

You never know, by sharing and liking the pages you might reach another young city-dweller and open their eyes to the possibilities within the dairy sector.