After spending life growing up not quite knowing what she wanted to do, Rachel Durie chose a job where she could learn how to do it all. Alex Lond writes. Photos by Alan Gibson.
When Rachel Durie signed up for the Perrin Ag graduate programme, it was the variety of work that appealed to her. The fact that the agribusiness consulting firm’s head office was in Rotorua, just an hour from her family dairy farm, was an added bonus. Especially as most of her work focuses on the dairy sector, working with Maori Trust farms on improving all aspects of their farm systems.
“I work directly with the onfarm team, depending on the farm; it’s an extremely rewarding role when you can see how your work is benefiting a farming system.”
There’s no time for Durie to get bored in her role, as the diverse variety of work from farm to farm allows her to keep her finger on the pulse in all aspects of agriculture. Much more than just a farm consultant, she explains that now she’s into her first year with her own clients, she is often in charge of other aspects such as organising fertiliser, feed budgeting as well as overseeing recruitment on some farms.
“Farmers often know the right answer, they just need help finding it. The variety of work with Perrin Ag is immense, and there are so many opportunities to expand our clients’ knowledge.”
The variety of work involved in the company results in a diverse team environment, and this is reflected in the graduates coming onboard. Perrin Ag’s graduate programme has come ahead in leaps and bounds in Durie’s time, with the firm launching its formal Empower graduate advisor programme this year. She emphasises how having the ability to adapt, being curious and most importantly being passionate about agriculture are all important when it comes to the qualities Perrin Ag looks for in graduates. It’s about finding people who fit into the supportive team environment as well as wanting to work in a progressive position, she explains.
After completing the programme Durie is well into her third year with Perrin Ag. She’s already been involved in projects such as the One Billion Trees Project, with Perrin Ag completing 10 case studies across the Bay of Plenty, Rangitikei and Waikato regions investigating how farming and forestry can be successfully integrated.
Her latest project this year involves research into composting shelters through the Our Land and Water Rural Professionals Fund, and she has a real interest in how these can benefit farmers.
Durie feels privileged that her heavy involvement with Māori Trust farms has allowed her to expand her knowledge in environmental projects on farms. With farming constantly progressing and changing, she also feels fortunate to have so many opportunities to work for a company that is constantly advancing in the industry, and with such a supportive group of people.
With over 20 employees and more than 500 active client relationships across the country, the firm has grown since Durie joined in 2019. She is never short of something to do.
As well as her full-time role with Perrin Ag, Rachel and her partner Mania have just started contract milking the family farm in Lichfield, South Waikato.
“You learn a lot from pulling information together, and Perrin Ag has definitely helped me prepare myself for this next challenge of contract milking. Although, it’s Mania doing the hard yards on the farm every day.”
The couple are peak milking 690 cows on a high input system 5 farm, providing plenty of challenges for them in their first year. Already they have made their way into the top 10 suppliers for the lowest cell count for dairy company Miraka, sitting at 79,000. This was achieved mostly through implementation of strict protocols, good observation, rigorous manual teat spraying and attention to detail, with Mania very rarely being out of the dairy shed.
“It has been a fantastic result given the farm’s history for cell count. Mania was determined, and that determination has paid off for us.”
The farm aims to avoid waste with Speckle Park bulls used over their heifers and at the end of AB, reducing the number of bobby calves each year and producing higher value calves that can be sold.
“We have a lot of support from my family, with my uncles doing calf rearing and silage making and mum having a pedigree Speckle Park herd. This allows us to focus on the aspects that are important to us, such as feed management and cell count.”
Durie aims to keep her future relatively broad, with no set goals other than to make it through their first season with no major mistakes. She explains how she is always looking to grow, but is never too set on a direction, just aims to continue learning and expanding her knowledge both through Perrin Ag and on their own contract milking business. She is certainly not looking to follow the standard route from contract to sharemilking and believes there are plenty of other ways to invest in farming.
Keeping things broad and forward thinking are more important. Her approach means she is able to keep up with the ever-changing environment that farming provides, while still enjoying a relatively balanced life, getting out hunting with Mania when they both find time to take off together.
While goals are important, she believes keeping an open mind allows you the opportunity to adapt to your environment, while still enjoying the work that you are doing. For Durie, that is a key to success.
DIGGING UP THE LATEST ON COMPOSTING
For her latest project, Durie is investigating how a composting shelter could be successfully integrated into a farming system.
She is leading a team of Perrin Ag consultants investigating the impact composting shelters have on the environment, on animal and staff welfare and financial performance, all the while aiming to reduce the misconceptions that are out there. While Durie completed her honours project on composting shelters at university, she says that there was much less knowledge at the time, but now with tougher regulations and farmers interest in the shelters increasing, there is a lot more information available for her and her team to work with.
She avoids the term ‘composting barn’, favouring ‘shelter’, to avoid common misconceptions, because the word ‘barn’ implies that they are something more expensive to build and might be similar to situations more common in the US and Europe, that often raise questions about animal welfare.
Composting shelters are different, most obviously because they have no side walls, though some operators will use sail type arrangements in windier areas. Also, the deep layer of bedding material in the shelters is most often wood chips or sawdust, but Durie says that some people are trying different options, such as miscanthus. When the cows come in, they pee and poo in the bedding and the composting process is aided by daily tilling by a tractor. If the design is right, a lot of the urine simply evaporates, and a key benefit is that when the composting is done properly, no liquid effluent comes out, so you don’t need the effluent systems required for other similar systems, Durie says.
Solving these issues as well as those of animals being outside during the harsher winter months, while providing shade during the heat of summer, composting shelters seem to be a good option for farmers looking for ways to meet stricter environmental regulations.
Durie’s project also aims to gather data on the benefits in terms of reducing nitrogen loss and potential impacts to greenhouse gases, to allow farmers to see if there are numerous benefits to the shelters that would justify the initial cost. She is already involved with Māori Trust farms through her work at Perrin Ag, and she will be working alongside Putaruru-based Māori farming trust Kokako Pi Karere LP on this nine-month project. While the first phase is research-based learning, visiting other farmers that already facilitate composting shelters, the second phase will be a case study on one of the Kokako dairy farms looking at a range of scenarios for how a composting shelter could be integrated and the impacts to the farm system.