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Busy background to farm life
Tim Bonner with his award.

Busy background to farm life

Jackie Harrigan

Tim Bonner has a busy and exciting year ahead of him and winning the Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards dairy trainee of the year award has just stepped things up another notch. Shortly after the DIA national competition in May he shifts to Lepperton in June to take up a contract milking role on his parents’ 200-cow farm.

The 23-year-old assistant farm manager is taking it all in his stride – and has just the background not to let a little busyness faze him. He grew up as one of triplet boys and has an older brother and sister who are twins. To add to the melee, his father has spent Tim’s entire life in a wheelchair – after breaking his back in a farm tractor accident.

Taranaki dairy trainee of the year for 2017 Tim Bonner.

“Dad’s accident has given us a great appreciation for health and safety,” Tim says wryly.

Tim’s dad Danny is still active in the farming industry, although sharemilkers take care of the day-to-day work and Danny runs his own separate beef block in north Taranaki.

“The accident hasn’t really slowed him down, he still gets out and about in his off-road wheelchair,” Tim says.

While Tim has been involved in milking cows and helping out with odd jobs since he was a young boy, he wasn’t always sure about a career in the industry. In his first job after leaving New Plymouth Boys High School, he worked in the Waikato for DairyNZ as a dairy farm assistant before they encouraged him to go to Massey and study B Ag Com.

But uni wasn’t really the place he wanted to be, saying it was really hard being inside learning the theory when you couldn’t be outside putting it into practice.

“I learn by doing things really.”

‘We are definitely into measuring the grass – Dad wasn’t really into that back in the day but we will be walking the farm every 10 days to keep a track of where the feed is growing and how much we have on hand.’

He made a fairly quick decision to leave after two years and get a job in the industry knowing his parents’ sharemilkers were moving on in June 2017 – which created an opening for him.

After varsity Tim worked first as a farm assistant for John and Wendy Allen in the Manawatu for eight months, during which time he first entered the Dairy Industry Awards, with the Allens’ encouragement and took out third place. The placing and the experience drove him to re-enter in Taranaki when he had secured the role as assistant farm manager for Steven and Maria Poole at Kapuni.

Working under manager Sam Hughson has been a huge help in learning things as well as preparing for the dairy trainee competition – as Sam was the 2016 Taranaki dairy trainee winner.

The 800-cow peak milking platform at Kapuni is on track to produce 450,000 kg milksolids (MS) and winter-milk 100 cows.

Plus Steven Poole, his boss, is his uncle and has been a great mentor, as Tim says Steven is very keen on getting young people motivated and keen to learn.

“I owe him a lot already – and his advice will be very helpful next season on the Lepperton farm and will help me and Dad get it all going well.”

“Dad has been off the farm for most of his life and so he has older ways of doing things – but we want to farm using all the new technologies.”

Aiming for production of 75,000 kg MS for his first season, Tim plans to lift production to 80,000kg MS after that.

The dairy has in-shed feeding which will be handy to fill any feed gaps and get the minerals into the cows, but he would like to farm a simple system with the emphasis on good pasture utilisation – “like Steven does it”.

“But we are definitely into measuring the grass – Dad wasn’t really into that back in the day but we will be walking the farm every 10 days to keep a track of where the feed is growing and how much we have on hand.”

Pasture renovation is on the cards through a summer chicory crop and maize silage will probably be brought on to the platform as supplement.

While Tim hasn’t enrolled in any training yet, he spends a lot of time on the DairyNZ website and appreciates the resources available there and the knowledge he has gained through attending discussion groups and courses.

“It there’s something I don’t know when I am out farming, I come home and get on the internet and see what I can learn.”

Recognising he needs to upskill on the financial side of his business, he is considering enrolling in the Primary ITO diploma course and will be looking for Dairy NZ business skills courses to attend.

“Mum and dad are really good at the financial side and will help me out, but I realise I will have to upskill there.”

He has been enjoying helping his dad buy cows for the new herd and they have sourced a good line of second calvers.

“It’s been a real learning curve and very interesting talking to the stock agents about the cows we want to buy.

“Now we are looking for some older cows to bring down the average cost.”

He is also in the market for a tractor (“which is pretty expensive”) and a quadbike and already has bits and pieces of gear including a bale feeder.

“In the future I would like to get a mower and a tedder so we can make our own hay and do a bit contracting.”

The $7000 prize pool from the Dairy Industry Award will certainly help and Tim says he is glad he has always been a saver and “pretty cheap with my money” – even though he has come in for a fair bit of stick about his car – the 1996 Corolla he has had since school days.

“While all my mates were buying flash utes I have stuck with the old Corolla.”

Talking to his accountant has been really helpful too, and Tim has some clear goals like working his way into sharemilking in five years and five years after that being able to look for an ownership stake, or maybe in an equity partnership.

The cows have always drawn Tim to farming, saying he loves being outside working with them and he thinks they are amazing creatures.

“I really love being out there doing it and if I get to bed around 9 or 10 I don’t have any trouble with the early mornings.”

“But it was a bit of a struggle at first after I was a student – in bed till 11am some days.”

The only downside of dairy farming can be the lack of social life – especially when many of his school mates have dispersed and uni mates gone on to careers around the country.

Joining a Young Farmers club in North Taranaki should help when he moves to his new job and will give him a whole new circle of friends to join him indulging his other interests of hunting and fishing.

“I might even look at getting on to the committee to help out with the club.”