WORDS AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS NEILL
Northland | Dairy Trainee of the Year
Winning the 2021 Northland Dairy Trainee of the year award has been a huge confidence boost for Bella Wati, a 19-year-old woman who was raised in the city with a love of animals but no farming connections. Classroom learning was never Bella’s thing, so with support from her parents Kelly and Mark Wati, she signed up for agriculture classes in Year 10 and started a journey towards a career she is relishing. With a combination of school and Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre studies, she has achieved NCEA to level 2 and NZCA level 3 for Farming Systems and Vehicles, Machinery and Infrastructure. Bella is now studying for her dairy apprenticeship with Primary ITO. In addition, she has shared her enthusiasm for agriculture and the path she has taken with other young women in secondary school. She has encouraged at least two of them to start on a similar path at NorthTec in Whangarei.
After part time work onfarm as part of her study placements with Louise and Kerran Errington and then with Northland Share Farmer of the Year 2021 winner Katrina Pearson, Bella started full time work with Katrina on the 186 ha Puketitoi Farms in December 2019, milking 460 cows. Katrina has taken the time and provided the opportunities plus encouragement for Bella to develop her practical skills with stock, plant, and machinery. She is now responsible for grazing management of the 45 x R2 and 21 x R1 replacement heifers on the 66 ha runoff, rearing 100 replacement heifer calves and 370 dairy beef calves, and measuring pasture across the whole farm then entering the data into Minda Software while participating in general farm duties including milking.
Bella’s readiness to take advice and willingness to accept challenges that build her competence have contributed to her also winning the NorthTec Farming Knowledge Award and Northland Field Days Communication and Engagement Award. Judges were impressed with her understanding of best industry practices and Bella showed this experience with examples of what she does onfarm. The judges said her milk quality knowledge was impressive, and they remarked that she should be proud of what she has achieved in such a short time in the industry.
Bella’s love for livestock and responsibility for calf rearing has established her view that calves should not go on the bobby truck. She is unsure whether her opinion is shared by her employer or helped influence a recent change to using low birth weight Angus bulls on heifers and in the herd after AI to improve the marketability of these calves. The change increases her enthusiasm and positivity for her current role and aligns with her view of changes that will benefit the dairy sector. Other changes Bella is looking for are better industry alignment with environmental regulations, more advanced technology to monitor stock and measure their performance, and greater understanding of dairy farming by the wider community to encourage more young people to make it their career.
To achieve her long term ambition of owning her own Northland farm to raise calves on cull dairy cows, Bella has started her journey of building equity. Her three key steps are to purchase a residential rental property that is financially self-supporting, rear and sell livestock, and find a co-investor for the farm. Entering the Dairy Industry Awards also fits Bella’s plan for self-development in testing what she is doing, identifying what can be improved, building her self-confidence, and increasing her employability for career advancement.
RUNNER UP in the Northland Dairy Trainee was Michaela McCracken who is farm assistant on Greg McCracken’s 450ha Wellsford property, while 19-year-old Ruawai farm assistant Lucas Beeler was third.
Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:
NorthTec Farming Knowledge Award – Bella Wati
Pacific Motor Group Community & Industry Involvement Award – Michaela McCracken
Northland Fieldays Communication & Engagement Award – Bella Wati
DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Ezra Houltham