DairyNZ is looking for the next generation of industry leaders for its university scholarships.

The scholarships pay the annual university tuition fees up to $6325 to students and offer mentoring, support and networking.

“We want people who are passionate about the industry, who will mix and network, who will be leaders and help others,” DairyNZ education facilitator Susan Stokes says.

Although academic merit was important, students didn’t have to be A students to apply.

“We want students to do their best academically but there is more to dairying than marks at university or school.”

Although the government is now paying first year university student fees, she said school pupils should still apply.

“Our scholarship is about so much more than the money.

“What everyone says who is a DairyNZ scholar is that it’s actually the mentoring and being supported through their whole degree that makes the difference.”

Susan meets with each scholar individually three times a year and is on call whenever they need her by phone and email.

“We also set each first year up with a second or third year student who is also a scholar as a buddy so they have that extra help.”

As well there are workshops and social events where scholars are introduced to industry professionals.

“We want to help them through university and also transition them into the workforce.”

She said 40% of DairyNZ scholars were from urban backgrounds but all had shown that the dairy industry was where they wanted to work before they applied.

“They’ve been out with consulting officers, been to discussion groups. That’s what we’re looking for when we award these scholarships, that these young people love dairying.”

Students must also show they have leadership skills and the ability to develop and promote dairying. Scholars are expected to visit schools and help out at career days encouraging others to think about a dairy career.

Peter Smit

For Peter Smit, a DairyNZ scholarship meant much more than the money.

He arrived at Lincoln University a few days later than everyone else (competing in the National MotoX champs that year had held him up) and knowing no one.

Home town is Whakatane and he was the only kid from his school who had decided to go to the southern university.

“When I got there I met all the other DairyNZ scholars, met Susan Stokes (the DairyNZ education facilitator) and it all helped. Suddenly I knew a few faces.”

From a family dairy farm (mum Donna is a Fonterra director), Peter chose Lincoln for its rural vibe and graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor in Agricultural Science including an honours in farm management.

He took four months off to travel overseas then started contract milking on the family-owned 310-hectare effective dairy farm just south of the Waitaki River mouth near Oamaru.

Last year, with 1010 Friesian and crossbred cows the farm did 453,500kg milksolids (MS) (449kg MS/cow) and Peter is looking forward to seeing what the farm can do this season with 40 more cows.

“We’ve been taking out the border dykes and putting in pivots along with some spray irrigation and k-lines. It’s about 130ha that we’ve converted.”

Without a student loan, thanks to the DairyNZ scholarship, he could raise the finance to buy motorbikes, a ute and have an overdraft for the day-to-day running of the farm.

Managing four staff (three are into their third season with him) and a seasonal calf rearer, Peter credits his degree in helping him keep on top of things.

“A lot of what you study for exams, you don’t really use on farm but then, when you think about it, it all adds up to the knowledge you have.

“If I’ve got a problem I have the skills to research solutions, and I probably look at things differently, question things more.

“Mum is pretty pleased I went and got a degree.”

Long term he would like to own his own farm but at the age of 25 he knows it’s a way off and the running of the dairy is keeping him busy enough. Entering the Dairy Industry Awards is on his to-do list.

“This is probably the best place in New Zealand to have a dairy farm.

“We have no major weather events, not too much rain, lots of sunshine but it usually doesn’t get above 20deg in summer so it isn’t too hot and when it gets dry we have cheap and reliable water to irrigate with.”

The cows are wintered across the road on fodder beet with the neighbour doing the shifts. Otherwise it’s an all home-grown-grass diet for the cows except for 150kg/cow of silage bought in last year and 250kg/cow of palm kernel which this year is being replaced mostly with a by-product from the nearby Fonterra mozzarella plant.

He says meeting other DairyNZ scholars, having Susan help him with paper selection for his degree and networking with industry people all helped him at Lincoln.

“The Dairy NZ scholarship really pushes you to excel. Susan made sure I kept my marks up. I couldn’t rest on my laurels.” The scholarship also smoothed his way into working full time.

He is now a member of the Glenavy Young Farmers and is involved in his adopted community, which is very far away from home.

“Mum and Dad do come and visit a few times a year and see what I’m up to.”

He is still in touch with Susan and some of the other DairyNZ scholars and is hoping to be able to help out other Lincoln students needing 10-week dairy placements to fulfil the practical part of their degree.

He’s also been back to his old high school in Whakatane to encourage pupils there to consider dairying as a career.

“Once a DairyNZ scholar, always a DairyNZ scholar I guess.”

Meg Simpson

Meg Simpson grew up on a Dipton sheep and beef farm, milked cows in the school holidays and was a boarder at St Hilda’s Collegiate School in Dunedin.

“I battled through school chemistry and when I was leaving school I was thinking about the air force or maybe engineering and then I happened to go to the Lincoln University open day.

“No one at St Hilda’s had encouraged me to think about farming as a career. At the open day I was thinking maybe a commerce degree at Lincoln and then I went to a lecture on ag science and by the time I got back home to Dipton later that day that’s what I was doing.”

She knew she had made the right decision days into the course the following year.

“Suddenly I had found people who understood me. I was doing chemistry that made sense.”

In 2009 she graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science including honours in soil science.

“When I graduated, five other girls from St Hilda’s crossed the stage, all had done ag degrees and none of them would have been encouraged to do them by the high school.”

As a DairyNZ scholar she went back to the school and talked to pupils about dairying, hopeful of changing attitudes.

If it was Lincoln that got her into a farming career, it was DairyNZ that focussed it on dairying.

She had found out about the DairyNZ scholarships by looking at the Lincoln University scholarship webpage but at that stage had not been thinking about cows.

“That’s how the scholarship changed me. It’s about so much more than the money. It’s about the people and the dairy industry.

“I had Bill Barwood and Joy Piper from DairyNZ looking after me and they really helped me with all the options in the science papers and gave me a direction.

“And there was the networking as well and meeting people. Don’t get me wrong, the money is nice, but I had friends who had scholarships which were just the money and this one was so much better.”

At the end of her degree she was offered a PhD position at Lincoln but the dairy farm she was working on part time near Dunsandel offered her a full time job and she took it.

“It was the time of the Global Financial Crisis and job offers were slim but I couldn’t bring myself to going back to university for another five years.”

One dairy farming job led to another and then in 2016 she joined the Centre for Dairy Excellence in Geraldine as a farm consultant and is now supporting the Allflex New Zealand cow collars with the company.

“Last week I was in Hamilton and Martinborough, this week I’m in Southland and next week I’m in Victoria, Australia.

“All the time with science I’m thinking about how it can be useful on farm.

“There has to be real outcomes for dairy farmers, not just tech for tech’s sake, or data for data’s sake. That’s what I’m really enjoying. Find real world applications for science for dairying.”