Words by Jackie Harrigan, photo by Brad Hanson

Manoji Kumar decided to go dairy farming after researching the industry on YouTube, as a recent migrant to New Zealand with English as his second language.
Ten years later he and his younger brother Sumit have won the Share Farmer of the Year for the Hawkes Bay/ Wairarapa region in the 2021 DIA awards.
The brothers are 50/50 sharemilkers on Andrew and Monika Arbuthnott’s, 285-cow Eketahuna property and also on Geoff Arends and Ester Romp’s 465-cow property.
Both Manoj and Sumit have entered the Awards previously, with Sumit placing third in the 2018 Hawkes Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Manager category.

From rural Delhli to Pahiatua

Manoj, now 34, came to the Bay of Plenty as a horticultural worker in 2010 but he has a Bachelor in Agriculture from India.
The brothers hail from a small village in northern India near Delhi where their parents have a small 10ha farm, with goats, chickens and a few buffalos and cows for home milk supply.
“I noticed lots and lots of cows around the region when I came to New Zealand so I wanted to learn more about them and about the industry – how does it work?”
“So I started searching on YouTube,” he said.
What he learned was that the New Zealand dairy farming system is totally different from back home in India and there is potential to build your own business and end up owning land.
When Sumit arrived six months after him, they decided to shift to the dairy industry to make their future in a family business.
“We could never build a farming business like that in India.”

Rapidly building a future

What followed was a rapid period of learning and growing for the brothers.
Manoj’s first farm assistant job in the Wairarapa rapidly turned into a manager’s job when the previous manager quit just six months into the season, and the boss told Manoj he was capable of stepping up. Sumit came to work for him as a farm assistant.
The brothers made record production in their first year on the farm.
By 2013 they were contract milking the first farm, and shortly after that each had a contract milking job, then were contract milking three farms for three seasons before buying cows and rationalising to sharemilking one farm with 285 cows, and added the next sharemilking job with another 465 cows.
The farms back onto each other across the river – although it takes five minutes to drive between them. The smaller sharemilking farm is System 4 with maize silage, PKE and a summer crop of turnips and little in the way of automation.
It’s all a partnership – a family business – and Manoj and Sumit credit the sacrifices that their parents made to raise $40,000 to get the brothers visas for New Zealand for giving them the drive to make the family business succeed.
“When we were researching how to progress in the industry we loved the idea of going from contract milking to sharemilking – that sort of growth is just not possible back home in India.”
“It’s very rewarding here as we can see the improvements we make on-farm and there is a culture unlike any other industry.”
Sumit, 28, who has a Diploma in Business Management and Level 4 in Agriculture originally wanted to go to Canada, but is happy to be building a family business with Manoj.
He said the brothers discuss everything and while they don’t always agree, they always come to a decision and move forward. Manoj has been joined in New Zealand by Sunita, his wife from a next-door village in India and they have a daughter Avni, 5, who loves going to school in Pahiatua.
Sumit’s wedding to Kapila was postponed from 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic as she is still in India and the past year has been hard without any visits from Indian friends and family, although the brothers are thrilled with the improved internet connection at their farmhouse meaning they can keep in regular contact.

Paying it forward

Winning the DairyNZ Human Resources Award was very exciting for Manoj and Sumit who say the success is all about their team.
“We are very focused on our team, making sure they have training to do the job well and they are growing their knowledge and are able to progress in the industry as we have been able to.”
All of their team members are encouraged to study through Primary ITO, and Sumit has been working with the training advisor, trying to get a local class going so that the team don’t have to travel 40 minutes to the nearest training centre in Masterton.
“We are trying to get a cluster of 10 trainees from surrounding farms to train locally.”
Their staff have come from India, usually from their home or a close village and the brothers share the three staff across the two farms.
“We have been given such great opportunities from our employers, we want to share those opportunities with our staff. We want them to see us as mentors and we give them good references,” says Manoj.
“We know what it’s like to be migrants – we remember a time when we didn’t have enough money for food, so we want to do the best for our team and help them to succeed as we have.”
The brothers say that other local farmers have asked them if they know any dairy workers looking for jobs.
This season will be their last season running 12:2 rosters as they are looking to transition the staff to 8:2 rosters. Sunita cooks for all the team members in the springtime and they have breakfast together and the brothers try to have a get-together for the whole team once a week, a BBQ, or meal or fun activity.
They also won the Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award for 2021 and have a laminated plan of procedures and processes on the wall in the farm dairy.
They have managed to reduce their somatic cell counts (SCC) by 45% in the last year with help from their farm vet and the Ecolab rep, and that has translated into less than half of the mastitis they dealt with the previous season.
Their strategies were to herd test after calving and lots of paddle testing of individual cows four days after calving and then if needed getting the samples cultured by the vet and getting treatment or culling advice.
Farm Safety has also been a focus for the brothers, making sure the health and safety policy is up to date and treated as a live document.
Lots of staff training ensures the whole team is up to speed and procedures and processes are set out in words and pictures, particularly for using machinery.
They use a local training company to come in and run a refresher safety course each year, and every few years will repeat that aspect of the training.
“This year it is using the chainsaw, next year it will be tractors again,” said Sumit.
The judges, in awarding Manoj and Sumit the Westpac Business Performance Award, were impressed by their equity growth since they have been building their business.
Sumit and Manoj generate lots of monthly reports, and sensitivity analyses, looking regularly at threats to the business and reviewing and monitoring their key performance indicators (KPIs).
“We always need a plan and we are lucky that we work so well together.”
Plans for the future have four options – sharemilking the two farms, farm ownership and sharemilking (buying a farm and keeping the sharemilking job), keeping the sharemilking job and land development projects, or just buying a farm – but the target is to come to a conclusion and get into farm ownership in the next two years.
They had the opportunity to rear 20 calves when they started contract milking, so embraced that, and in 2016 invested in a house in Palmerston North which showed great equity growth, allowing them to sell, buy more and develop sections of the back of those.
They have also recently bought a 20ha block with a big house and will subdivide that, all as a diversification from the farming.
“It’s good to have diversification, but dairy farming will always be our main business – and long term we would like to own and operate multiple farms.”
“Our good team is our strength as they create new ideas, improve efficiency and require less managerial interference,” they say.
The family have been joining in and supporting the local community, who they say have been very welcoming. Sumit has established a local team for cricket-loving immigrants, called the Slack Caps. The brothers both volunteer at the local theatre, as well as financially supporting it. They have also donated two calves from each farm to the local Fire Brigade.

Hawke’s Bay/ Wairarapa Share Farmer Merit Awards:

DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj
Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj
Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Adam Hands and Zoe Haylock
Honda Farm Safety, Health & Biosecurity Award – Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj
LIC Recording & Productivity Award – Adam Hands and Zoe Haylock
Meridian Energy Farm Environment Award – Adam Hands and Zoe Haylock
Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Adam Hands and Zoe Haylock
Westpac Business Performance Award – Manoj Kumar and Sumit Kamboj