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Crusader with a cause
Fifteen-year-old Gateway student James Baker (right) working alongside Jack Raharuhi is one of six who will get experience on the farm this year.

Crusader with a cause

Anne Hardie

High school was a period of rebellion for Jack Raharuhi and his hassled teachers probably never expected him to be back a few years later on a crusade to inspire students to choose dairying as a career.

This year he will have six Gateway students from his former Buller High School in Westport getting weekly work experience on the Landcorp farm he manages at Cape Foulwind, giving them a taste of dairying and balancing the negative urban image of the industry.

At 25, he has just won the Dairy Industry Awards West Coast-Top of the South Dairy Manager of the Year and now manages eight staff through the busiest months of the season on Landcorp’s Totara unit which milks up to 1100 cows.

The best part of the job, he says, is the people who help him run the farm system and achieve results – which this year has seen the farm’s production lift dramatically and should put it within the corporation’s top 10 farms in the country for production and profitability.

His passion is mentoring – working alongside staff and showing by example as well as fostering their training in the industry and then seeing them succeed.

It’s something he definitely never considered as a career at 15 when he was smoking dope, getting into fights and one of the boy racers. The last straw for his parents was a drink-drive conviction and his father hauled him out of school to work for a friend on one of the Landcorp dairy farms. The manager proved a tough boss who wouldn’t take any nonsense from a teenager with an undesirable attitude and Jack learnt to work hard.

It was a year before he finally began to enjoy his work and think seriously about dairying as a career. By the time he was 20 he had a partner and family, and with responsibility came the desire to focus on his career and go places with it.

Now he wants others to look at the dairy industry and get a taste of success as well, so heads back to his old school to talk to groups and hopefully inspire them to take up roles in the industry.

‘I think you have to lead by example, be a team player and not take anyone for granted. So I get on the ground floor and do all the crap jobs too. And I look after my team.’

He’s taken part in career speed-dating at the school to give students and families an insight into dairying as a career. And he’s taking on Gateway students who will spend one day each week on the farm to get an insight into dairy farm life.

He has actively pursued the school to get Gateway students to the farm because even in a small community such as Buller where dairy farms dominate the easier land, there is still a lack of understanding of the industry and much of the urban knowledge reflects the negative press, he says. It’s why primary school children are brought out to the farm to help plant alongside waterways and wetland areas with plenty of helpers and high-visibility vests for safety on a working dairy farm.

“I think the biggest problem in the industry would have to be that it isn’t involved enough in attracting people into it. You’ve got to make the effort for the long-term vision. These kids may end up being your workers one day.”

Fifteen-year-old Gateway student James Baker(left) working alongside Jack is one of six who will get experience on the farm this year.

Similarly, he now wants to establish a Young Farmers Club in Buller to reach more young people and mentor those who want to progress in the dairy industry.

Once on the farm, Gateway students are buddied with a staff member for the day which has the added bonus of teaching leadership skills to staff.

Fifteen-year-old James Baker is a Gateway student who now plans to get a fixed-term contract on the farm as a milk harvester, while either continuing with some subjects at school or studying through correspondence.

With James on the farm, the staff ranged from 15 to 65 years in age until the latter retired recently and Jack says that enables younger staff to learn from those with years of experience, while a mix of gender adds a range of attributes that cover all the bases.

Jack is a big fan of buddying new staff, in the same way he uses buddies for the Gateway students, to teach them the team culture and work ethics.

“I think it’s really important in that first two months to get a feel for the culture and a feel for their responsibilities to set the bar. They see how everyone else behaves as well as the health and safety expectations so when they go and work by themselves they know the expectations – whether they’re new to dairy farming or if they have experience.

“Buddying-up is really valuable in the long run. I try to put introverts with introverts and extroverts with extroverts to make them feel welcome and make it comfortable for them. You can usually pick up a lot about their personality in the interview – they say you can tell a lot about people by looking inside their car.”

Gateway student James Baker hoses down the yard during his day on the farm.

 

Passion flows down

The goal to run a profitable business can only be realised with the support of the staff and that requires good communication and essentially people skills, Jack Raharuhi says.

“My farm motto is healthy team, healthy cows, healthy business. If they have a bit of a passion, it flows down to profitable business.

“I think you have to lead by example, be a team player and not take anyone for granted. So I get on the ground floor and do all the crap jobs too. And I look after my team.”

His own people skills have developed largely through experience as he climbed the ladder with a range of bosses, while trying to balance work and family.

“I know what it is like to have a prick of a boss and I know what it is like to work in the pissing rain. And I’ve also worked with four days on and two days off. Along the way I think everyone I worked for could have had better people skills, so the one thing I was going to change when I became a manager was to have better people skills.

‘In the weekend, let people go home after milking and have a bit of time with their whanau instead of going out on a Sunday night to fix fences.

“In the weekend, let people go home after milking and have a bit of time with their whanau instead of going out on a Sunday night to fix fences. With a healthy team culture you should be able to sit down and have a cup of tea and discuss what needs to be done without yelling out the window to go and do it.”

To Jack, part of looking after the team entails feeding them a good cooked breakfast for about 12 weeks through calving and the start of mating – bacon, eggs, hash browns, the works. His wife Charlotte began cooking breakfast for the team and now Landcorp has enlisted her to cook for about 35 staff to include its other farms in the area. Through the morning she continually cooks breakfast for staff at one of the houses and that not only gives them a good feed for the day, but gives them all a chance to socialise with each other over breakfast.

“I’ve learnt a lot about healthy eating and healthy thinking. We got a nutritionist here for a workshop and that made me think more about feeding the team through calving and we’ll probably start adding more healthy food for breakfast like salads.”

Apart from healthy eating, Landcorp also has a roster that focuses on reducing fatigue in staff that can lead to health and safety problems. This season, the Totara farm needed a big effort to lift production and put staff on a six days on, two-off roster at the beginning before easing back to four on and two off.

“On rosters like this, you get your work back off your guys and everyone has a work-life balance and is in a better state of mind. It makes the whole dairy thing attractive again and I think it will eventually become the norm in the industry.

“You hear of managers who go right through calving without a break and I think to drive your strategy, you need to have a healthy mind that isn’t fatigued. You can’t be a leader and drive a strategy when you’re fatigued.”

The end result is a healthy team in body and mind which has worked for Jack who says the only turnover of employees has been those moving up the ladder and he has never had to advertise for staff.

Training the 2IC

In the dairy industry, it’s all about the people and Jack Raharuhi wants to help them succeed by mentoring those he works alongside and, down the track, running training camps.

His ultimate goal is to oversee a farming enterprise with up to 10,000 cows that employs about 40 staff, where he can use his skills to attract, progress and help them succeed in the industry.

“I’d take all the dairy assistants and see who wanted to move forward and run classes for them twice a week, make sure managers are working closely with them and really reward them.”

Acknowledging achievements goes a long way to fostering enthusiasm and success, Jack says. So his vision includes regular meetings for all staff with reward ceremonies to celebrate staff achievements.

“If people feel they’re acknowledged for their work, they get a sense of progression and that makes them hungry for more. That’s part of being a good leader.”

He envisages working with Primary ITO or similar training facilitators to run sessions for groups at differing levels to make it easier and more enjoyable for staff to train.

“You get such competitive, enthusiastic young people that it could become very healthy competition.”

Similarly, second-in-charge staff (2ICs ) could be grouped together to prepare them for the next step into management.

“You can never be too ready and the better prepared you are, the better manager you will be.”

This year Landcorp intends running classes for the 2ICs on Landcorp farms at Cape Foulwind to give them an insight into the computer systems needed to manage the corporate dairy farms, but Jack thinks the need for 2IC training extends throughout the industry.

“I think there’s a big gap across the country from 2IC to managers and I think it’s becoming a problem. Sometimes you see production plummet with new managers and I think that’s due to a lack of support going into that role. They’re often dropped in the deep end and left to swim.”

He will be running the 2IC training sessions at Cape Foulwind to bring them up to speed on technology such as MilkHub, dairy production reporting (DPR) and FarmIQ.