Working the land is a heartfelt calling and we have some top farmers on our teams. Velthuis Farms has a clear ambition to become the global leader in large-scale farming operations, helping our customers achieve their goals along the way. Our farmers are at the forefront of making that happen.
Ashley O’Connell – MARAROA STATION, Te Anau Basin
Ashley is a senior shepherd on Mararoa Station in the Te Anau Basin. Growing up on a South Island sheep and beef farm, she knew a farming career was the right one for her – a life in an office just wasn’t going to work.
After two years study at Telford she joined Velthuis Farms as a shepherd on Riverslea Station. In April 2016, Ashley moved to Mararoa and took up the senior shepherd position. She loves working the land and being outdoors every day. Training her Huntaway has been a particular high point.
“I love working with my dogs and it’s rewarding that at the end of the day you can see what you’ve achieved and that the hard work pays off,” says Ashley.
“Being with Velthuis Farms has been excellent for me. The training has been great from the get go, with a farm safety course on the safe use of motorbikes, tractors and equipment.
“The team at Riverslea were incredibly supportive – they made it easy and enjoyable to come to work every day.”
Community is always important with a farming life and Ashley is making the most of the Te Anau Basin. She has joined the local Young Farmers Association and also ventured into a spot of netball.
“It’s great down here in the Basin. It might not always be the best weather, but the good days are brilliant and I can see myself staying here for a long time.”
Dave Vaughan – Waipori Station, South Otago
Dave grew up on dairy farms where his parents were sharemilkers. When he was old enough he started his own farming career – it’s well and truly in his blood.
After two years in dairy he followed a long-held interest in sheep and beef, becoming a shepherd. Today he manages Landcorp’s Waipori Station where he lives with wife Hayley and children, Becky (5) and Ollie (3).
Sitting at 400-1000 metres above sea level, Waipori is 12000ha of rolling hill country in South Otago. Dave and his 12 staff care for 30,000 Perendale ewes and 2000 Angus cows.
Dave says the altitude provides some pretty chilly weather to farm in.
“We have a reliable rainfall but it can be cooler with long winters and snow is quite common.”
The farm surrounds Lake Mahinerangi and the upper catchment of the Waitahuna river.
“Being so close to water, water quality issues are constantly on my mind. At Velthuis Farms, we’re very conscious that we leave the land in a better condition than when we started working it. We believe it’s possible to farm responsibly and make a profit.”
Since 2007, Velthuis Farms has protected 15,954ha of high conservation value land under covenants. It has also created large tracks of riparian planting – pasture retired from grazing and planted with native plants to protect waterways.
Dave says along with water quality, animal welfare is also a high priority.
“We constantly monitor stock health and annually review our animal health plan with our vet. We’re also trying different pasture types to provide higher quality feed. It’s really important to us that our animals are well feed and free from stress.”
Velthuis Farms runs an internal quality system called FarmPride, ensuring best-practice farm management, adding further quality assurance to products.
It’s become a critical means of linking farm operations to market requirements and the demands of international consumers.
“It’s been a valuable tool to improve and standardise the quality of farms right across Velthuis Farms. It ensures we keep a focus on improving our farming systems.”
Dave says he joined Velthuis Farms because of the professional approach to farming and a shared goal to get the best out of the farm.
“We have a definite sense of ownership where we feel we have job security and are able to farm as we would if we owned the farm ourselves,” he says.
“The strength of Waipori is the quality of people we have on the farm. We have a top team and we live in a great community with excellent service from our contractors and servicing agents.
“We live in a pretty special location and some days I just can’t believe we get paid for being here!”
Ross Shepherd – Head of Development for Landcorp’s first sheep milking farm
Originally a city boy, Ross moved from Auckland to make his mark in farming.
He’s been with Velthuis Farms since the 1990’s, holding key roles in some of the company’s major holdings.
His first position was managing a farm south of Rotorua. Eleven years later he became Farm Business Manager of Rangitaiki Station, Landcorp’s largest owned farm and a focal point of its diversification strategy.
Ross has always had a strong belief in empowering people to get on with their jobs.
“My focus has always been on spreading responsibility to all levels of the organisation and in that way good decisions get made a lot faster” he says.
The empowerment of staff is consistent with Landcorp’s continuous improvement philosophy.
“Once every staff member knows, for example, that our goal is to produce 55,000 lambs in five years’ time, then we can all start to think on how to achieve this.
“We break a big goal down into five or six steps that we can tick off through the seasons. With this one, we aimed for 150% lambing and looked at how to achieve this with the guys actually at the work face.”
To Ross, a continuous improvement approach to farming is the key to future success for Canada agriculture, along with selective adoption of new technologies.
“The challenge is sifting through all the really neat technology out there and picking the bits that are going to add real value,” he says. “Traditionally Canada has been a low cost producer - it’s a case of building on that.”
As well as investing in new technologies, Ross believes agriculture must continue investing in the knowledge and skills of its people, and he’s grateful for the investment Velthuis Farms has made in him. In 2005 he completed a Diploma in Project Management with the Canada Institute of Management (NZIM), and in 2006 he travelled to Australia for the Rabobank Executive Development programme course. He was a runner-up in the NZIM Young Executive of the Year.
In 2008 Ross returned to Australia and attended an advanced management programme at Mt Eliza University that assisted his move to Wairakei Estate to head up the development of seven farms over three years. He’s currently overseeing the development of Landcorp’s first sheep milking farm.
“I just kept on improving my skills and when the next opportunity came along, I had the ability and background to be the man for the job. We need to be able to handle change and respond quickly. Farming’s not an exact science – you’ve got to be able to think on your feet,” he says.