Tony Leggett

Two enterprising young Australian rural professionals received an amazing insight into New Zealand agriculture during a two-week whistle-stop tour of the country last November.

The pair were joint winners of the Zanda McDonald Award which is presented annually by the Platinum Primary Producers (PPP), a group of 150 larger scale and influential farm owners and agribusiness professionals from both sides of the Tasman.

The Award is open to anyone under 35 and winners receive $2000 in prize money plus a trip around properties and agribusinesses on both sides of the Tasman, hosted by members of the PPP group.

When the judges couldn’t separate the two Australian finalists, the decision was made to award both.

Shannon Landmark is 27 and is a trained vet. She co-ordinates the Northern Beef Genomics Project at the University of Queensland, working on improving genetic selection and reproduction rates.

She shared the award with Luke Evans, 29, station manager at Cleveland Agriculture based at Rockhampton Downs Station, a 450,000ha beef property at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Luke not only runs this significant operation, but also mentors youth, and provides on-the-job training and employment opportunities at the property.

Their NZ tour took them to north of Gisborne to visit a large-scale Maori incorporation sheep and beef property, then to Leaderbrand’s Gisborne packhouse to see large scale vegetable packaging in action, then to the 10,000ha Lochinver Station east of Taupo.

Before heading south to visit properties in Wairarapa, the pair spent an hour at Spring Sheep’s milking enterprise just north of Taupo, just as hundreds of ewes entered the shed for their afternoon milking.

Spring Sheep’s Taupo property is producing milk for its own label of infant formula from an East Friesian base flock which is building towards a breakeven goal of 300 litres/head annual production.

Landmark and Evans peppered the staff at the property with questions ranging from feeding to markets for the products produced from the milk.

The property is Spring Sheep’s multiplier unit, feeding stock into its other properties elsewhere in the central North Island, and is also the site where more than 4000 lambs are artificially reared each year. A recent trial showed it is possible to grow lambs at an average of more than 300g/day on milk replacer and keep death rates under 10%.

From Taupo, the pair headed south to visit PPP member properties in Wairarapa before heading south to Marlborough, Canterbury then Central Otago to eventually fly home out of Queenstown.

Evans says the intensity of farming in New Zealand was in stark contrast to the Northern Territory property where stocking rates are extremely low.

“We’ve been fortunate to remain outside the really serious drought zone, but we’ve had two particularly dry seasons with limited rainfall, so our 120,000 head of cattle are always searching for feed,” he says.

Evans recently trained as a helicopter pilot and now flies the station’s own Robinson 22 machine for mustering stock, checking dams and water systems, and dropping supplies to staff.

“The chopper has certainly made a huge difference to managing the properties. I couldn’t be without it now,” he says.

Landmark’s role with the Northern Beef Genomics Project at the University of Queensland has involved thousands of kilometres of travel to visit outback stations to collect pregnancy data and bloods from a large number of herds. Her data collection work is coming to an end and now her colleagues in the laboratory will set about finding genetic markers that can pinpoint early puberty from a snip of tail hair.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the experiences I have thanks to the Zanda Award. It’s been amazing to see inside some of Australasia’s best farming businesses,” she said.

The Zanda McDonald award is sponsored by Allflex, Pilatus Group, CBRE, MDH and Australian Community Media.