Jack Raharuhi has had a meteoric rise through the dairy industry since he started out as a wayward school kid and today he’s back in schools, changing the public perception of dairying.

The 28 year old won the 2020 Zanda McDonald Award in March which recognises young Kiwis and Australians making a difference in agriculture. His win follows previous awards including the Ahuwhenua Young Maori Farmer of the Year Award in 2016 and then the Dairy Manager of the Year for the West Coast-Top of the South in 2017.

Starting out as a troublesome 15 year old that his father dragged out of school for a job on a dairy farm, Jack has risen to dairy operations manager of Pamu Farms near Westport. Here he oversees three dairy farms milking a total of 3,500 cows plus its machinery business which together employ 21 full-time staff. He also has a leadership role in health, safety and wellbeing, plus training and development, for Pamu’s 10 dairy farms on the coast.

One of his goals is to attract locals and to do that he heads back to school, coordinating the Gateway Programme through Buller High School to provide work experience for students, plus talking to sustainability classes and getting them on the farms to provide a more balanced view of what is being done at farm level.

He says it is the responsibility of the farming industry to get out there and change public perception by showcasing what is being done on farms, as well as encouraging career pathways into the agriculture sector. Collaboration between all agriculture sectors to engage with schools could have more success across New Zealand, he says.

In the past couple of years there has been six Gateway students working on Pamu’s West Coast farms and three of those have stayed in the industry, while all bar three of the Buller farm’s 21 staff are locals. Jack’s predicting the emphasis on employing local staff will lead to better staff retention, though it is still early days to judge the success of the policy.

“I think it’s important we continue this journey because people from outside the West Coast find it hard to adapt to the community and isolation of the area and some do struggle to farm here.”

As well as encouraging locals into dairying, he is working at providing more support for the apprentices and 2ICs on the farm by running discussion groups to prepare them for the next step up the ladder. For the past two years he has been running the 2IC discussion groups from Pamu’s 10 West Coast dairy farms, giving them the skills to become farm managers. The discussion groups rotate monthly around the 10 farms where they can analyse each farm on its targets, issues and general performance.

“What I’ve seen is the 2IC skill set across the country has deteriorated over the years and my passion is to improve that,” he says. “Our farm managers are taking on a lot now in terms of responsibility on farm. The more they take on, the less time they have to spend with their staff. As a country, we’re losing that valuable time they spend with their staff.”

He’s a big fan for entering awards and encourages staff to get involved to clarify their goals, benchmark themselves against others in the industry and be inspired by others with similar goals.

“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.”