From rebellious 15 year old to Operations Manager for three large dairies – Anne Hardie outlines the recruitment and training philosophy of a highly motivated young West Coaster.

would have been very easy for Jack Raharuhi to have followed a path that led to a life behind bars. Instead he has become a coach and mentor for the 21 staff he manages on Pamu Farm’s Buller dairy units as well as getting involved in the community to challenge the public perception of farming.

At just 28 he has an impressive resumé considering that he was pulled out of school as a troublesome 15 year old and thrown into a job on a dairy farm. With the official title of Buller Dairy Group Operations Manager he oversees three dairy farms milking a combined 3,500 cows, the machinery business associated with the dairy, sheep, beef and deer units at Cape Foulwind, plus the health and safety for all 10 Pamu West Coast dairy farms. He works with the local high school to coordinate the Gateway Programme to bring students on to the farm for work experience, plus the wider community to bring at-risk teenagers onto the farms. He’s also back at school talking with students about the agriculture industry, while in the wider industry he’s chairman of the West Coast Focus Farm Trust and a dairy IPG member with Primary ITO.

Along the way he has entered awards to benchmark himself against others in the industry and fine tune his goals, winning the Ahuwhenua Young Maori Farmer of the Year in 2016, the DIA Dairy Manager of the year for the West Coast-Top of the South in 2017, and the Zanda McDonald Award this year. The latter is awarded to a young Kiwi or Australian making a difference in agriculture.

One of his latest projects has been talking with a sustainability class at the school where he has given them a virtual tour of the farms. That has led to plans to get them on to the Cape Foulwind farms to show them what has been done, from retiring steep terrain and planting unproductive land to fencing the 95km of waterways.

“It’s really good to be able to paint a practical picture for the students about what sustainable agriculture looks like and iron out a few misconceptions. It’s a farming responsibility for everyone in the agriculture industry to change the public perception by showcasing what you are doing and also to encourage those career pathways into the agriculture sector.”

He says it’s not just about attracting people into a career in dairying but making it their first choice of career. They need to know that dairying is “not just about pulling tits”, but also about robotics, team management and business analysis. To get that message out there, he says, there needs to be more collaboration across the entire agriculture industry to interact with schools throughout the country to change the image of farming.


For those who do choose dairying as a career he wants to improve onfarm training, especially for 2IC (second in command) staff who are often promoted without the necessary skills to assist farm managers. He says the 2IC skill set has deteriorated around the country in the past few years, leaving farm managers overworked with little time to work with staff to improve their skills.

It has prompted him to initiate a discussion group for 2ICs and also apprentice workshops for staff on Pamu Farm’s 10 West Coast dairy farms. The discussion groups rotate monthly around the 10 farms where they can analyse each farm on its targets, issues and general performance. The apprenticeship workshops involve 26 apprentices on Pamu’s West Coast farms, who are studying levels three and four through the Primary ITO.

“I feel we’ve fallen into a cycle where we put our most experienced assistant into the 2IC role based on trust and just time in their role rather than the skill set competency of that individual. And they’re not ready for that. They can steer the team around in the day but they can’t go and feed cows X Y Z of grass and be on a 30-day round and know what needs to be done next week.

“That skill set is not there. I want to get them to know their KPIs and understand them. Just getting them to know their farm numbers is really important.”

“How you react to life experiences either propels you forward or back. You will always be dealt a shit hand now and again, but it’s about finding the best card in the shit hand.”

When that is done in conjunction with Primary ITO studies and internal training, he says, they begin to join the dots around what good milksolids per cow per day looks like at any time of the year, what good quality pasture looks like, when they should be topping, how to make a feed wedge, and all those necessary skills for making decisions on a dairy farm.

“You see farm managers absolutely blown out and the driving factor is they can’t delegate that workload because no one in that team has the skill set to take on some of that work.”

He’s been the farm manager that struggled with work/life balance and was threatened by fatigue so he recognises it now in other farm managers who are trying to do too much. He tells them to work smarter rather than harder and says they don’t have to work seven days a week to be successful, which brings him back to upskilling the 2ICs.

As part of the 2IC discussion group he has created a vision-and-objectives one pager that looks at the environment, people, finance, farm and animals, expertise and relationships. It encapsulates what a 2IC should be doing in each area to support the farm manager. Because the skill set between 2ICs varies so much, individuals can identify which areas they need to develop, and work on them with their farm manager.

At the end of the discussion groups he puts together a comprehensive report for the farm managers so they know what their 2ICs are working on and how they can help them improve their skills. As a farm manager, Jack says, their greatest skill is being a team leader. When he asked the 2IC discussion group what a good farm manager looks like, their answers all pointed to leader qualities such as respect, trust and approachability rather than farm knowledge.

“People have the same wants and needs for a good farm manager as they would right across any workforce.”

Apart from learning more skills, the discussion groups and apprenticeship workshops enable the team to network with each other, and encourage healthy competition and business engagement, which Jack says all help to lower staff turnover and lift productivity.

“We pump a lot of training and time into these guys and what I’m finding is the more I’m engaging with these apprentice workshops and discussion groups the more they want to stay here. If we can link it up with the Gateway students coming in, we can get the flow locally. We could create a pipeline through to farm manager.”

When it comes to employing staff all bar three of the 21 staff employed on Pamu Farm’s Cape Foulwind farms are locals, and Jack is hoping that will lead to better retention of staff and more experience to deal with the high rainfall and relative isolation of the West Coast.

“I’ve been trying to work really hard on building local culture because we’re finding locals are staying in their roles, they have good relationships with contractors and suppliers and they attract more good people into the business. And because some have farm experience they know how to farm in this area and that helps with productivity. We will take the best candidate, but we’ve found that skill set in the region.”

His passion for West Coast farming has led him to chair the West Coast Focus Farm Trust, which is involved with three monitor farms, and he says governance roles enable him to give something back to the industry.

“I look back and farming has changed my life from what I was growing up. And it’s also about sharing the knowledge.”

Entering awards has helped his knowledge and road to success so he encourages others to have a go, especially those who are ambitious and progressive.

“It’s really important you set your goals and benchmark yourself against others. And awards show your strengths and weaknesses so you know what you need to work on. By being involved in the awards you meet so many like-minded people and being around a group of people who want the same thing drives more success. You get a true gauge of whether your goal setting is true and when you are around those people you lift your game.”

Success is also about attitude, he says. Back in his rebellious teenage years he was given an opportunity in dairying, but meeting his wife, Charlotte, and beginning a family also helped him make better decisions.

“How you react to life experiences either propels you forward or back. You will always be dealt a shit hand now and again, but it’s about finding the best card in the shit hand.”

Jack may have dropped out of school at 15 but he is now studying for his Diploma in Agricultural Business Management and, when that is completed, he plans to begin a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. Ultimately, he would like to add a teaching diploma to add another skill for more leadership roles.